They grow up so fast. The iceberg called A68 — currently the largest iceberg in the world, weighing about 1.1 trillion tons (1 trillion metric tons) — calved off Antarctica's Larsen C Ice Shelf on July 12, 2017, two years ago today.
What has this massive, frozen toddler been up to since it broke free? Mostly just spinning.
As you can see in this awesome time-lapse footage taken over the last 18 months by the European Space Agency's Sentinel-1 satellites, and shared today by glaciologist Adrian Luckman, the hulking glacier has been steadily spinning away from its native ice shelf, drifting north about 155 miles (250 kilometers) from where it began. According to Luckman, that's some impressive mobility for arguably the largest free-moving object on Earth. [Images of Melt: Earth's Vanishing Ice]
"At 100 miles (160 km) long by only a couple of hundred meters thick, the aspect ratio of Iceberg A68 is more like a credit card than a typically imagined iceberg," Luckman, a professor at Swansea University in the UK, wrote on his website. "All the more surprising then, that despite grounding on the sea floor several times, Iceberg A68 remains in pretty much the same shape that it had when it calved away 2 years ago."
Alas, every step forward is a step away from home — and toward certain doom. While iceberg A68 continues to pirouette in a current called the Weddell Gyre (named for Antarctica's Weddell Sea), it moves ever closer to the pull of the South Atlantic Ocean, where it will be gently swept northward to warmer climes.
Many icebergs that find themselves on this path (part of an oceanic conveyor belt known as "iceberg alley," according to BBC News) end up screeching to a halt near South Georgia Island, a remote British Overseas Territory about 1,000 miles (1,600 km) north of Antarctica. Icebergs of similar size to A68 have drifted for 5 years before making landfall, splitting into ever smaller chunks along the way.
Other bergs drift farther north, ultimately melting near South America.
While A68's fate is largely up to the whims of the Atlantic Ocean at this point, scientists will continue monitoring the frigid tot's progress from space as long as they can. Visually, it may not be as interesting as a square iceberg or coffin iceberg, but A68 still our iceberg — and we'll be proud of it no matter how it dies.
- Iconic Photos of Earth from Space
- In Photos: Antarctica's Larsen C Ice Shelf Through Time
- Photo Gallery: Antarctica's Pine Island Glacier Cracks
Originally published on Live Science.
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Brandon is the space/physics editor at Live Science. His writing has appeared in The Washington Post, Reader's Digest, CBS.com, the Richard Dawkins Foundation website and other outlets. He holds a bachelor's degree in creative writing from the University of Arizona, with minors in journalism and media arts. He enjoys writing most about space, geoscience and the mysteries of the universe.