A huge iceberg that has gone towards South Georgia Island in the South Atlantic has broken up into three large pieces, according to researchers.
The iceberg – called A68a by scientists – broke off from the Larsen C ice shelf in Antarctica 2017. In recent weeks, it has come close to South Georgia Island, a remote British overseas territory off the southern tip of South America, which raises concerns about the island’s wildlife.
Researchers are worried that an iceberg could grind into the seabed on the wild animal-rich island of South Georgia and disrupt the underwater ecosystem. They were also worried that one or more icebergs could block penguins that went into the sea to get food.
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 over three years and told NBC News that two new icebergs, the A68e and A68f, were “calved” off the A68a on Tuesday.
The two new fragments, 253 and 87 square miles each, as well as the original A68a, now more than 1,000 square miles – about two-thirds the size of Rhode Island, are still huge, according to Fleming. They are expected to continue to operate close to the island of southern Georgia and the potential for them to end up on the island still exists.
“Fragmentation does not take away the chance of it happening, but it does not now become a huge piece,” Fleming said. “But there is still potential for it to disrupt things.”
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Satellite images from the US National Ice Center on Tuesday showed the limits of where the ice cubes have separated.
Satellite data has been crucial in monitoring the iceberg on its journey from birth to destruction, Adrian Luckman, a satellite-forming glaciologist at Swansea University in the UK, told the BBC.
“Apart from being one of the largest icebergs ever recorded, the A68 must also be one of the most observed,” Luckman said, adding that the iceberg is finally beginning to decay almost 3.5 years since it was calved away from Larsen C Ice Shelf.
Fleming said it will be clearer where the new icebergs are heading in the next few days or weeks, but they are expected to be pushed by ocean currents to the north side of the island.
He also expects more crime as the two new iceberg fragments begin to decompose further.
Reuters contributed to this report.