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Iceberg Poses No Threat To Antarctic Personnel

Date:
December 23, 2004
Source:
National Science Foundation
Summary:
National Science Foundation (NSF) officials said that iceberg B-15A is not blocking access to McMurdo Station, the U. S. logistics hub for much of the nation's research activity in Antarctica, contradicting widely circulated reports to the contrary.

Smaller icebergs of varying sizes float in a zone between iceberg B-15A and a smaller, but still extremely large berg designated C-16. The collision zone between the two bergs is marked by narrow canyons and wide, ice-choked bays as well as by areas such as those in the center of the picture, where the edges of the bergs have been forced up into peaks by collisions.
Credit: Photo credit: Peter West/National Science Foundation

Arlington, Va. (December 16, 2004) -- National Science Foundation (NSF) officials said today that iceberg B-15A is not blocking access to McMurdo Station, the U. S. logistics hub for much of the nation's research activity in Antarctica, contradicting widely circulated reports to the contrary.

Karl Erb, Director of NSF's Office of Polar Programs said the real effect of the enormous iceberg had been to shield large parts of the Ross Sea from wind and ocean currents, with the result that sea ice had formed over a larger area than usual in the sea-lanes approaching McMurdo Sound. Before McMurdo Station can be resupplied icebreakers have to open a channel each year through which the resupply ships can proceed, and the icebreaker task will be more difficult this year. Erb expressed confidence that the U.S. Coast Guard and its crew aboard the icebreaker USCGC Polar Star will succeed. He added that NSF is currently arranging for a backup icebreaker that can assist the Polar Star if necessary. This is in response to a Coast Guard recommendation.

"There is absolutely no truth to reports circulating widely that the stations are facing a crisis when it comes to supplies of any kind, including food. Personnel at McMurdo and South Pole stations are in no danger," Erb said.

Some news media have conveyed the misimpression that an enormous iceberg, B-15A, is blocking ship access to the McMurdo Station seaport.

The U.S. research station at the geographic South Pole is more than 800 miles inland, and supplies are airlifted there from McMurdo after arriving on ships.

B-15A is a fragment of a much larger iceberg that broke away from the Ross Ice Shelf in March 2000. Scientists believe that the enormous piece of ice broke away as part of a long-term natural cycle (every 50-to-100 years, or so) in which the shelf—which is roughly the size of Texas— sheds pieces much as human fingernails grow and break off.

The berg initially drifted toward McMurdo Sound and grounded near Cape Crozier on Ross Island. It has since broken into pieces that still are very large. Some remain in place, but the largest splinter—B-15A, approximately 100 miles long—is moving north at roughly 1-3 three kilometres per day.

The berg's fate is unclear, as it depends on unpredictable winds, tides and other forces, but possibilities include colliding with the floating Drygalski Ice Tongue or continuing north, eventually to melt. If it's the former, the impact with the ice tongue could come as soon as Dec. 24.

The U.S. Coast Guard icebreaker Polar Star left Seattle, Washington, on Nov. 4 and should reach the edge of the sea ice about Dec. 27. It will begin immediately to cut a channel in the sea ice for the supply ships.

Officials agreed that the position of B-15A presents no obstacle to navigating the ship to the ice edge and beginning its work of opening a channel through this year’s roughly 80 nautical miles of sea ice. In a normal year, the icebreaker clears a channel through perhaps 10 miles of first-year ice.

In some prior years, the Coast Guard deployed both the Polar Sea and the Polar Star to open the channel but the Polar Sea is in dry dock for a major refit. NSF is negotiating to bring a chartered icebreaker to assist the Polar Star this year.

NSF, through its Office of Polar Programs, manages the U.S. Antarctic Program.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by National Science Foundation. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

National Science Foundation. "Iceberg Poses No Threat To Antarctic Personnel." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 23 December 2004. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2004/12/041217102949.htm>.
National Science Foundation. (2004, December 23). Iceberg Poses No Threat To Antarctic Personnel. ScienceDaily. Retrieved August 22, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2004/12/041217102949.htm
National Science Foundation. "Iceberg Poses No Threat To Antarctic Personnel." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2004/12/041217102949.htm (accessed August 22, 2014).

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