Giant iceberg heading towards Australia

Satellite image of iceberg south west from West Australian coast
Satellite image of iceberg south west from West Australian coast. Taken 5 November 2009 (Photo: Courtesy of gsfc)
Satellite image of iceberg south west from West Australian coast. Taken 9 November 2009Satellite image of iceberg south west from West Australian coast. Taken 29 November 2009Satellite image of iceberg B17B in Ross Sea.

9 December 2009

A giant iceberg 140 square kilometres – 19 km long by 8 km wide – in size is drifting slowly north from Antarctica towards Western Australia.

The iceberg, known as B17B, was spotted by Australian Antarctic Division glaciologist Neal Young using satellite images taken by NASA and the European Space Agency.

Dr Young said the iceberg is about 1700 kilometres south-south-west of the West Australian coast and moving north/east with the ocean current and prevailing wind.

“B17B is a very significant one in that it has drifted so far north while still largely intact. It’s one of the biggest sighted at those latitudes, now 48.8º S and 107.5º E,” Dr Young said.

“As the water warms up the iceberg is thinning and slowly breaking up, resulting in hundreds more smaller icebergs in the area,” he said.

B17B calved from the eastern end of the Ross Ice Shelf nearly ten years ago, along with several other massive icebergs.

At first, most of these drifted out of the Ross Sea and began to head westwards round the Antarctic coastline, but many became trapped in ‘fast ice’ for several years in an area east of the Mertz Glacier.

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Hear Dr Neal Young talk about B17B:

Giant iceberg heading towards Australia

Video transcript

Neal Young - glaciologist

Latest image we have is just two days ago. It’s about 140 square kilometres. When it left Antarctica, it was about 400 square kilometres, and within several months it had split into a couple of sections and the biggest piece remaining was 200 square kilometres. It’s very rare to get such a big iceberg up at these sort of latitudes. They do happen from time to time, so I say it’s not unusual, but it’s very, very rare.

Here’s a map of observations taken from ships, of icebergs, where the observation’s typically limited to about 56-South latitude. Now, that’s not because they didn’t take any observations; they just didn’t see icebergs, typically, north of that. Yet this position is up here, way out of the zone. I think it’s probably the combination of ocean currents and weather systems that have come past that have given maybe a prevailing southerly wind that helped it on its way.

B17B calved from in there. Other big icebergs came out of that the same time from in here. They came around the coastline, past the Mertz Glacier, right round to here, then from there up towards Australia. It’s still 1,700 kilometres away, so it’s quite a long way away, and it’s not really on our doorstep yet, but it’s been heading steadily towards us, towards the southern coast of Western Australia. It’s very, very rare.

[end transcript]