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Wild Iceberg Tears up Antarctica

This 16 May 2005 satellite image shows the bottle-shaped B-15A iceberg adjacent to the landfast Aviator Glacier ice tongue, toward the top of the image. The Drygalski ice tongue, near the bottom, was struck a glancing blow by the drifting B-15A a month earlier. Pieces of Drygalski broken off by the blow can be seen drifting through the sea on either side of B-15A. (Image credit: ESA/ Envisat)

A huge wandering iceberg is tearing up the Antarctic like a slow-moving bull in a frozen China shop.

The roving destructor, named B-15A, slammed into the Drygalski ice tongue a month ago and broke off at least two city-sized chunks. Now it is poised to strike another feature sticking out from the continent.

At 71 miles (115 kilometers) long, B-15A is the largest free-floating object in the world.

It is expected to lumber into the Aviator Glacier any day now, scientists with the European Space Agency said Tuesday. The researchers released a satellite image taken May 16.

Aviator was discovered in 1955 and named for flyers who helped open up the continent for exploration. The floating structure is attached to the continent and protrudes about 15 miles (25 kilometers) into Lady Newnes Bay within the Ross Sea.

If B-15A gets stuck, as it has before, researchers fear it could block sea ice behind it, thwarting animals that need to move from shore to the open sea.

B-15A is the largest chunk left of a bigger iceberg, known as B-15, that broke off the Ross Ice Shelf in March 2000. That initial frozen hunk was about the size of Jamaica. After B-15 broke apart, the chunk named B-15A drifted into McMurdo Sound, where it blocked ocean currents and caused other sea ice to build up, threatening wildlife.

Scientists predicted an imminent collision back in January this year. Instead, the iceberg ran aground and stalled out. Then it broke free in March. On the move again, it collided with the Drygalski ice tongue in April, forcing the redraw of Antarctica maps.

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Robert Roy Britt
Rob was a writer and editor at starting in 1999. He served as managing editor of Live Science at its launch in 2004. He is now Chief Content Officer overseeing media properties for the sites’ parent company, Purch. Prior to joining the company, Rob was an editor at The Star-Ledger in New Jersey, and in 1998 he was founder and editor of the science news website ExploreZone. He has a journalism degree from Humboldt State University in California.