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Enormous Iceberg Breaks off From Antarctica's Brunt Ice Shelf

2nd March 2021
Many cracks and chasms that have formed in the 150 m thick Brunt ice shelf in recent years
Many cracks and chasms that have formed in the 150 m thick Brunt ice shelf in recent years

An enormous iceberg estimated at about one-and-a-half times the size of greater Paris has broken off in Antarctica.

The European Space Agency (ESA) says radar images from the Copernicus Sentinel-1 mission show the 1270 square kilometre iceberg breaking free from the northern section of Antarctica’s Brunt ice shelf last Friday.

The ESA says glaciologists had been closely monitoring the many cracks and chasms that have formed in the 150 m thick Brunt ice shelf in recent years.

A new crack was spotted in late 2019 on an area of the shelf north of the McDonald Ice Rumples, and it was reported to be “heading towards another large crack” located close to the Stancomb-Wills glacier tongue, the ESA says.

radar images from the Copernicus Sentinel-1 mission show the 1270 square kilometre iceberg breaking free from the northern section of Antarctica’s Brunt ice shelfradar images from the Copernicus Sentinel-1 mission show the 1270 square kilometre iceberg breaking free from the northern section of Antarctica’s Brunt ice shelfRadar images from the Copernicus Sentinel-1 mission show the 1270 square kilometre iceberg breaking free from the northern section of Antarctica’s Brunt ice shelf

“Although the calving of the new berg was expected and forecasted some weeks ago, watching such remote events unfold is still captivating,” Mark Drinkwater of the ESA has said.

“Over the following weeks and months, the iceberg could be entrained in the swift south-westerly flowing coastal current, run aground or cause further damage by bumping into the southern Brunt ice shelf,” he said.

“So we will be carefully monitoring the situation using data provided by the Copernicus Sentinel-1 mission,” he said, referring to the mission run by the ESA.

The iceberg has been informally dubbed “A-74” by glaciologists.

Antarctic icebergs are named from the Antarctic quadrant in which they were originally sighted, then a sequential number. If the iceberg breaks, a sequential letter is then added.

The ESA says the calving does not pose a threat to the presently unmanned British Antarctic Survey’s Halley VI Research station, which was relocated in 2017 after the ice shelf was assessed as unsafe.

Published in Marine Wildlife
Lorna Siggins

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Lorna Siggins

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Lorna Siggins is a print and radio reporter, and a former Irish Times western correspondent. She is the author of Everest Callling (1994) on the first Irish Everest expedition; Mayday! Mayday! (2004) on Irish helicopter search and rescue; and Once Upon a Time in the West: the Corrib gas controversy (2010).

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Marine Wildlife Around Ireland One of the greatest memories of any day spent boating around the Irish coast is an encounter with marine wildlife.  It's a thrill for young and old to witness seabirds, seals, dolphins and whales right there in their own habitat. As boaters fortunate enough to have experienced it will testify even spotting a distant dorsal fin can be the highlight of any day afloat.  Was that a porpoise? Was it a whale? No matter how brief the glimpse it's a privilege to share the seas with Irish marine wildlife.

Thanks to the location of our beautiful little island, perched in the North Atlantic Ocean there appears to be no shortage of marine life to observe.

From whales to dolphins, seals, sharks and other ocean animals this page documents the most interesting accounts of marine wildlife around our shores. We're keen to receive your observations, your photos, links and youtube clips.

Boaters have a unique perspective and all those who go afloat, from inshore kayaking to offshore yacht racing that what they encounter can be of real value to specialist organisations such as the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group (IWDG) who compile a list of sightings and strandings. The IWDG knowledge base has increased over the past 21 years thanks in part at least to the observations of sailors, anglers, kayakers and boaters.

Thanks to the IWDG work we now know we share the seas with dozens of species who also call Ireland home. Here's the current list: Atlantic white-sided dolphin, beluga whale, blue whale, bottlenose dolphin, common dolphin, Cuvier's beaked whale, false killer whale, fin whale, Gervais' beaked whale, harbour porpoise, humpback whale, killer whale, minke whale, northern bottlenose whale, northern right whale, pilot whale, pygmy sperm whale, Risso's dolphin, sei whale, Sowerby's beaked whale, sperm whale, striped dolphin, True's beaked whale and white-beaked dolphin.

But as impressive as the species list is the IWDG believe there are still gaps in our knowledge. Next time you are out on the ocean waves keep a sharp look out!

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