A German research vessel exploring East Antarctica found itself at the right place at the right time last month when a massive iceberg broke off from the frozen continent.
The calving of the iceberg, dubbed A74, made headlines across the globe in late February when it broke off from the Brunt Ice Shelf. With an area of nearly 500 square miles, the iceberg is about the size of Los Angeles.
The Alfred Wegener Institute’s R/V Polarstern happened to be exploring nearby in the Weddell Sea region when the calving occurred and immediately headed for the area. Researchers then waited for favorable weather before entering between the iceberg and the Brunt Ice Shelf to document and take samples from the seafloor that has been covered by hundreds of meters of ice for decades.
Experts say calving events like the one that created iceberg A74 happen only about once every 10 years, so being on-hand to study the event is rare.
The first images reveal an amazing level of biodiversity, according to the Alfred Wegener Institute.
“It’s extremely fortunate that we were able to respond flexibly and explore the calving event at the Brunt Ice Shelf in such detail,” says Dr Hartmut Hellmer, a physical oceanographer at the AWI and head of the expedition.
The sediment samples gathered are expected to provide more detailed insights into the ecosystem, while a geochemical analysis of the water samples collected provide new details regarding the nutrient content and ocean currents.
“It is a unique opportunity offered to researchers on board Polarstern to explore the Antarctic Ice Sheet,” said German Federal Research Minister Anja Karliczek. “I am grateful to the crew of the Polarstern for taking on the associated hardships and also risks. Polar research makes a decisive contribution to better understanding and foreseeing climate change and its consequences for our earth. We need this knowledge in order to be able to take effective countermeasures against climate change. The effects of climate change in Antarctica, among others, are worrying. “
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