UK team set for giant Antarctic iceberg expedition

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Giant ice berg A68 (c) BASImage copyright
BAS

Image caption

The marine life exposed by the iceberg may have been hidden beneath the ice shelf for 120,000 years

Scientists will set out in the next week to study an Antarctic realm that has been hidden for thousands of years.

A British Antarctic Survey-led team will explore the seabed ecosystem exposed when a giant iceberg broke away from the Antarctic Peninsula in 2017.

The organisation has also released the first video of the berg, which covers almost 6,000 sq km.

Its true scale begins to emerge in a shot filmed from an aircraft flown along its edge.

Urgent mission

An international team will spend three weeks, from February to March, on board the research ship RRS James Clark Ross, navigating ice-infested waters to reach the remote Larsen C ice shelf from which the berg calved.

Image copyright
Copernicus Sentinel 1 Data/BAS

Image caption

A large gap between the berg and the Larsen Ice Shelf is increasing in size

British Antarctic Survey marine biologist Dr Katrin Linse, who is leading the mission, said that the calving of the iceberg, which has been named A68, provides researchers with “a unique opportunity to study marine life as it responds to a dramatic environmental change”.

“It’s important we get there quickly before the undersea environment changes as sunlight enters the water and new species begin to colonise,” she explained, adding that the mission was “very exciting”.

Prof David Vaughan, science director at BAS stressed that it was a treacherous journey but said the team needed to “be bold”.

“Larsen C is a long way south and there’s lots of sea ice in the area, but this is important science, so we will try our best to get the team where they need to be,” he said.

“The calving of A68 offers a new and unprecedented opportunity to establish an interdisciplinary scientific research programme in this climate-sensitive region. Now is the time to address fundamental questions about the sustainability of polar continental shelves under climate change.”

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