Freakishly Large Iceberg Grabs NASA's Attention

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A 240-square-mile (660 kilometer) iceberg, named B31, recently escaped into the open ocean from Pine Island Bay, Antarctica, announced NASA, which is monitoring the gargantuan chunk of ice.

Although the floating ice is roughly 10 times the size of Manhattan, it could be hard to track in the long darkness of the coming polar winter. British Antarctic Survey airplanes dropped 37 GPS tracking units onto the iceberg in January to follow it. NASA satellites also watch the iceberg’s movements from orbit.

The 20-mile (33 kilometer) by 12 mile (20 kilometer) iceberg snapped off, or calved, from the Pine Island glacier in November, 2013.

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Even with radar and warning systems, icebergs threaten modern ships with the same fate as the HMS Titanic. In 2007, the MS Explorer, an Antarctic cruise ship, sank after striking an iceberg near the South Shetland Islands, reported CBS News.

Shipping in the polar regions has increased in recent decades. At the same time, glaciers now calve more icebergs. Even small icebergs, known as growlers and bergy bits, threaten vessels.

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“The growlers and bergy bits are difficult to detect by radar and satellite, yet are still capable of damaging or sinking a ship,” ocean physicist Peter Wadhams, of the University of Cambridge, told AccuWeather. “Since there are more icebergs and they are melting faster, we can expect a bigger population of growlers and berg bits, so more danger to shipping.”

Photo: Iceberg B31 escapes into the southern ocean on March 11, 2014. Credit: Jeff Schmaltz, LANCE/EOSDIS Rapid Response

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