Beginnings Reporting on science and intelligent design

An icy, floating threat

Science | Scientists study the impact a massive iceberg could have on South Georgia Island
by John Dawson
Posted 12/17/20, 11:31 am

British scientists will steam out of a Falkland Islands port in January on a mission to study the largest iceberg in the world. But it’s not just out of curiosity: Scientists are worried it could damage wildlife habitats in the British territory of South Georgia Island.

At nearly 2,200 square miles, the A-68 iceberg covers an area nearly the size of Delaware and is almost 62 percent larger than South Georgia. Scientists warn the iceberg is on a collision course with the island and its sparsely populated research station some 1,000 miles east southeast of the Falklands.

In late 2016, scientists discovered a crack developing in the Larsen C ice shelf in Antarctica, and the iceberg broke away in 2017. Ocean currents have pushed it north toward the shallower water around South Georgia Island.

Once the RRS James Cook reaches the iceberg, a team of researchers with the British Antarctic Survey will collect water samples and observe wildlife. Scientists can’t push the massive feature away, but they can get a jumpstart studying the effects A-68 might have if it lodges on the coast.

If the massive iceberg comes to rest on the continental shelf surrounding the island, researchers worry it would disrupt the delicate ecosystem. The waters around South Georgia teem with phytoplankton, microscopic algae that forms the basis of many aquatic food chains. Scientists fear an iceberg this size could lower water temperatures a few degrees below the normal 39 degrees.

Another concern: As the Delaware-sized iceberg melts, it could release enough freshwater to meaningfully alter the water salinity near the island, rendering the environment unsuitable to the type of microscopic life that presently exists there.

“Even though icebergs are common, we’ve never had anything this size before, so it’s a first for us. … It brings a wholesale change to the environment,” Geraint Tarling, a biological oceanographer at the British Antarctic Survey, told The Guardian. “If the iceberg does ground, we could be looking at this being there for up to 10 years because it’s so large. It’ll be a huge problem.”

While whales can find new feeding grounds if the food chain around South Georgia becomes disrupted, the large populations of seals and penguins are stuck. “They are fixed to their base and without being able to get out, feed and get back quickly, they have got a real problem,” Tarling said.

John Dawson

John is a correspondent for WORLD. He is a graduate of the World Journalism Institute, the University of Texas at Austin, and previously wrote for The Birmingham News. John resides in Dallas, Texas. Follow him on Twitter @talkdawson.

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  • RC
    Posted: Fri, 12/18/2020 09:30 am

    Excellent article!  One thing that gets to me is the attitude of the scientist. This naturally occurring iceberg is going to ground itself on the island and cause some environment change for the next ten years or so. What I have issue with, is that scientist believe the changes, caused by nature, that will or may occur, is wrong!  How did they get it in their heads, that everything in a particular environment is to stay in a static, steady state, forever?

  • not silent
    Posted: Fri, 12/18/2020 11:25 am

    I think this is an illustration of the fact that humans generally approach life and learning with certain assumptions, which can affect how we interpret data.  Two people looking at exactly the same data may come to completely different conclusions about what it means. It is good to seek knowledge and truth, of course-and I am always trying to learn more-but realizing that only God knows the "absolute truth" helps me keep my own views in perspective and to have grace on others when they disagree.

    In the realm of science, the level of knowledge is always changing. It was generally accepted that disease was caused by "bad air" in the early 1880's. It wasn't that they were not looking for the truth; it was that their knowledge was incomplete-i.e., people DID seem to get sick more around swamps and in the presence of decaying organic matter.  The discovery of micro organisms shed new light on the whole situation. 

    This is a great opportunity for scientists to learn about a number of natural processes even if they, like all of us, approach it with certain underlying assumptions. To be fair, when God created the universe and called it "good," death was not part of the mix. Death entered because of the fall of man, whether or not certain specific actions done by mankind in general are responsible for specific episodes of death and pain occuring in nature.  I think we should do what we can to minimize pain and suffering in this world, but I also think we tend to believe we have much more control over those things than we really have.

  •  CherylQuilts's picture
    Posted: Fri, 12/18/2020 04:47 pm

    Yes, this is excellent and was covered in the WORLD Watch News today. But they didn't explain anything about what you do and left a lot of questions. Left a link on Facebook for those who wanted more. Great job as always! Blessings!