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Nov 14, 2013 08:44 AM EST

British Scientists Monitoring Manhattan-Sized Iceberg to Avert Shipping Lane Disaster

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British scientists are closely monitoring an iceberg the size of Manhattan to prevent a possible catastrophe in the busy international shipping lanes. The huge iceberg measuring roughly 270 square miles (700 square km) broke off from the Pine Island Glacier in Antarctica, July.

 Scientists fear that it could glide into shipping lanes in the Southern Ocean.

Icebergs split from glaciers every two years on an average. But this is the first time that the path of an ice berg's motion is being monitored.

Grant Bigg, professor at the University of Sheffield and the principal investigator of the six-month project, said that ocean currents could be affected by the large amounts of freshwater from the melting iceberg.

"If the iceberg stays around the Antarctic coast, it will melt slowly and eventually add a lot of freshwater that stays in that coastal current, altering the density and affecting the speed of the current," Bigg said in the statement. "Similarly, if it moves north it will melt faster but it could alter the overturning rates of the current as it may create a cap of freshwater above the denser seawater."

The huge chunk of ice was first spotted through the German Space Agency's earth observation satellite, TerraSAR-X, by scientists from the Alfred Wegener Institute, Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research.

 "The primary reason to monitor the iceberg is that it's very large. An iceberg of this size could survive for a year or longer and it could drift a long way north in that time and end up in the vicinity of world shipping lanes in the Southern Ocean," Dr Robert Marsh from the University of Southampton, who is also part of the project, said in a statement.

 "There's a lot of activity to and from the Antarctic Peninsula, and ships could potentially cross paths with this large iceberg, although it would be an unusual coincidence."

With the help of the results from this study, scientists can accurately predict the paths of future large icebergs. Icebreaks are soon going to be a common phenomenon as global warming causes glacier calving.

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