A huge iceberg heading for South Georgia Island in the South Atlantic has split into three large pieces, according to scientists.
The iceberg – nicknamed A68a by scientists – detached itself from the Larsen C ice shelf in Antarctica in 2017. In recent weeks, it has approached South Georgia Island, a remote British overseas territory in the far south of South America, raising concerns about the island’s wildlife.
Scientists fear that an iceberg could penetrate the sea floor of the South Georgia island, rich in wildlife, and disrupt underwater ecosystems. They also feared that one or more icebergs could prevent penguins from entering the sea to feed.
A large number of whales, seals and penguins feed off the coast of South Georgia.
Andrew Fleming of the British Antarctic Survey has been tracking the A68a for more than three years and told NBC News that two new icebergs, called A68e and A68f, were “paired” with the A68a on Tuesday.
The two new fragments, 253 and 87 square miles each, as well as the original A68a, now over 1,000 square miles in size – about two-thirds the size of Rhode Island – are still huge, according to Fleming. They must continue to drift near the island of South Georgia and the potential to land on the island still exists.
“Fragmentation does not eliminate the chance of this happening, but now it will not be like a big piece,” said Fleming. “But there is still the potential to upset things.”
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Satellite images provided by the US National Ice Center on Tuesday showed the limits of where the pieces of ice separated.
Satellite data has been crucial to monitoring the iceberg on its journey from birth to destruction, Adrian Luckman, a glaciologist at satellite images at Swansea University in the United Kingdom, told the BBC.
“In addition to being one of the largest icebergs ever recorded, the A68 must also be one of the most watched,” said Luckman, adding that the iceberg is finally starting to disintegrate nearly 3.5 years since it separated from the Larsen C ice shelf. .
Fleming said it will become clearer where the new pieces of iceberg are heading in the next few days or weeks, but that they should be pushed by ocean currents to the north side of the island.
He also expects more breaks as the two new iceberg fragments begin to disintegrate further.
Reuters contributed to this report.