When A-68, a trillion-ton iceberg the size of DE (or ten Madrids or two Luxembourgs, whatever you want to call it), parted ways with the Antarctic Larsen-C ice shelf in the summer of 2017, it was the largest recorded calving in history.
Without the protection of the A-68's ice, nearly 3,600 sq miles (6,000 km) of Antarctic ocean water are now exposed to sunlight and accessible for the first time in more than 120,000 years. Larsen C however, one of the sectors of the ice-shelf has been reportedly crumbled into the sea, it is an iceberg twice the size of Luxembourg and it is also considered four times the size of London. The split between the two is visible at 1:20 and at several other points in the video. The ecosystem that's likely been hidden beneath the ice for thousands of years may change as sunlight starts to alter the surface layers of the sea. "It's important we get there quickly before the undersea environment changes as sunlight enters the water and new species begin to colonize", Katrin Linse, the marine biologist leading the expedition, said in a British Antarctic Survey press release. "Using a range of different techniques, our multi-disciplinary approach by an worldwide team will examine the marine ecosystem spanning the water column from the surface of the ocean all the way to the seabed and the sediment".
This marine area will benefit from an worldwide agreement reached in 2016, which designated areas for scientific study in newly-exposed marine areas following the retreat of ice shelves or their collapse as well.
The team is said to leave their base in the Falkland Islands in late February to spend three weeks aboard the RRS James Clark Ross, a British Antarctic Survey (BAS) research vessel. Specifically, the they will be looking for things such as sea sponges, brittle stars, urchins, sea cucumbers, sea stars, and anything else that may have taken root under the ice. Of interest also is the documentation of any birds or animals that may have moved into the newly-freed area. As it slowly drifts north, this massive berg is exposing an area that's been covered in ice for the past 120,000 years.
"So we know there is life, but we don't know what type", said Dr Linse.
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This newly exposed marine area is the first to benefit from an global agreement made in 2016 by the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR).
"The calving of A-68 offers a new and unprecedented opportunity to establish an interdisciplinary scientific research programme in this climate sensitive region", said David Vaughan, Science Director at BAS. Now, the scientists want to take advantage of this rare opportunity to study a newly exposed seafloor before change occurs. And as long as sea ice stays clear of the path they plan to take, the three-week mission will get started February 21.
The team will not be the first to investigate the aftermath of the massive breakaway of the Larsen C Ice Shelf.
"Now is the time", added Vaughan, "to address fundamental questions about the sustainability of polar continental shelves under climate change".
The research expedition to the Larsen C Ice Shelf is funded by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC). Scientists on the Australian side of the Antarctic drilled a small hole and inserted a camera down below the shelf.