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Thursday, January 13, 2005

Get ready for the Biggest Demolition Derby on the Planet - Iceberg Ram in a couple of days!

Get Ready For Largest Demolition Derby On The Planet

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Get Ready for the Largest Demolition Derby on the Planet
Scientists say Slow-Motion Collision Near Antarctic Research Station Imminent


It is an event so large that the best seat in the house is in space: a massive
iceberg is on a collision course with a floating glacier near the McMurdo
Research Station in Antarctica. NASA satellites have witnessed the 100-mile-long
B-15A iceberg moving steadily towards the Drygalski Ice Tongue. Though the
iceberg's pace has slowed in recent days, NASA scientists expect a collision to
occur no later than January 15, 2005.

Image top: The Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) instrument
on NASA's Aqua and Terra satellites captured the above image and others

Image left: The MODIS instrument on NASAƂ?s Aqua and Terra satellites captured 13
images of the shifting B-15A iceberg between November 9 and January 2, 2005. The
Iceberg is also compared to the size of Long Island, New York. Click on image
left for animation sequence. (.mpg)

"It's a clash of the titans, a radical and uncommon event," says Robert
Bindshadler, a researcher at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, and if the two
giant slabs of ice collide, we could see one of the best demolition derbies on
the planet. "Even a 'tap' from a giant can be powerful. It will certainly be a
blow far larger than anything else the ice tongue has ever experienced," says

When the iceberg and the ice tongue collide, the impact will likely "dent their
bumpers," says Bindshadler. The edges could crumple and ice could pile or drift
into the Ross Sea. But if the B-15A iceberg picks up enough speed before the two
collide, the results could be more spectacular. The Drygalski Ice Tongue could
break off.

The ice tongue is thick ice that grows out over the Ross Sea from a land-based
glacier on Antarctica's Scott Coast. "Ice tongues do break off on occasion,"
says Bindshadler. "It would only take one thin area on the ice tongue to make it
break off." There's no guarantee that the Drygalski Ice Tongue will break off,
but "this is the toughest blow it has ever had to deal with."

"That Ice tongue has no reason for staying intact" says Waleed Abdalati,
researcher with NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, but Bindshadler points out,
it may not break up either. The results depend on the movement of the B-15A

The B-15A iceberg is a 3,000-square-kilometer (1,200-square-mile) behemoth that
has a history of causing problems. It is the largest 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.

Image right: A comparison of Iceberg B-15A and Long Island, New York.

The berg initially drifted toward McMurdo Sound and grounded near Cape Crozier
on Ross Island. It has since broken into pieces, the largest of which is B-15A.

This year, B-15A has trapped sea ice in McMurdo Sound. The currents that
normally break the ice into pieces and sweep it out into the Ross Sea have not
been able to clean out the Sound, so winter's thick ice remains intact.

The build-up of ice presents significant problems for Antarctic residents.
Penguins must now swim great distances to reach open waters and food. Adult
penguins may not be able to make the trip and return with food for their young.
As a result, many chicks could starve, says Antarctica New Zealand, the
government organization that oversees New Zealand's Antarctic research, in the
Associated Press.

The National Science Foundation (NSF) officials said that the B-15A iceberg and
the frozen Sound will not interfere with supply ship access to McMurdo Station,
the U. S. logistics hub for much of the nation's research activity in
Antarctica. Forty miles of ice typically separate the pier at McMurdo from the
open sea, but this year the ice stretched 80 miles from the station. So far, the
extra ice has not been a problem. The U.S. Coast Guard icebreaker Polar Star
left Seattle, Washington, on Nov. 4 and docked at McMurdo in early January after
cutting a channel through the ice for supply ships.

Ironically, a collision between the iceberg and the ice tongue could make things
easier for both penguins and ships. If the ice tongue collapses, the way may be
opened for sea ice to escape the Sound.

There is no guarantee that satellite will see a great demolition because the
berg's fate is unclear. The berg's future depends on unpredictable winds, tides
and other forces, but possibilities include colliding with the floating
Drygalski Ice Tongue, or continuing north, eventually melting.

If the collision occurs as predicted, this could be an event that we witness
again and again. The tides that drive the iceberg's motion tend to push it in
circles. "If B-15A bangs the ice tongue once, it could bang it again," says
Bindshadler. With multiple daily views of the Ross Sea, NASA satellites will be
there to watch the show.

Related Stories at the Earth Observatory:

+ B-15A Iceberg Blocks McMurdo Sound High Resolution Images (.tif):

The best thing to give to your enemy is forgiveness; to an opponent, tolerance; to a friend, your heart; to your child, a good example; to a father, deference; to your mother, conduct that will make her proud of you; to yourself, respect; to all men, charity. ~ Arthur J. Balfour




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