An Enormous Iceberg Is Headed for South Georgia Island—Again

A massive Antarctic iceberg is headed straight for South Georgia Island, a remote outpost in the southern Atlantic Ocean that is home to millions of seabirds, penguins, and seals that may find their route to the sea blocked if the Delaware-sized chunk of ice gets stranded near their breeding grounds. Known officially as A-68A, the iceberg has been meandering north since it broke off from Antarctica’s Larsen Ice Shelf in September 2017. Measuring 94 miles long and 30 miles wide, it's nearly as big as South Georgia Island itself, and is expected to arrive sometime in the next two weeks. “They can move their own length in one day,” says David Long, director of the Center for Remote Sensing at Brigham Young University, which keeps a database of large Antarctic icebergs that are being tracked by satellite. “A few weeks is probably a reasonable estimate. When it will impact the island is hard to say.”
The island is known as the final resting place of Ernest Shackleton, the British explorer who landed there after his ill-fated expedition to Antarctica in 1915. Shackleton and two crewmen were forced to traverse the island’s rugged peaks to reach a whaling station and to organize a rescue of the remainder of his crew, who were stranded on another island 700 miles away. He returned to South Georgia Island on a later expedition and died of a heart attack in 1922.South Georgia sits right in the middle of an alley of currents that bring bigger icebergs north from Antarctica toward the equator. Smaller ones usually break up or melt, while larger ones can remain intact for years at a time. In 2004, iceberg A38-B ran aground off South Georgia Island, leaving huge numbers of dead seal pups and young penguins. Two years ago, a Jamaica-sized iceberg named B-15 sailed past after meandering across the Southern Ocean for some 18 years, eventually breaking apart near the equator. Long says that A-68A is being swept north and might crash into the island, or sweep past it.
Photograph: NASA
Seabirds such as petrels, albatrosses, and prions find refuge on South Georgia’s rocky beaches, as well as chinstrap, gentoo, and king penguins. Tens of thousands of elephant, leopard, and Wedell seals squeeze along the shoreline and are now in the middle of their mating season. Both the seals and penguins rely on the beachfront as mating and breeding grounds, and need open access to the water to catch fish—a route that a stray iceberg could obstruct.