November 16, 1996 in Nation/World

Massive Ice Shelf Breaks Off Antarctica; Not Expected To Affect Shipping

Associated Press

An iceberg the size of Rhode Island that sheared off the coast of Antarctica could drift for 10 years before it melts, a scientist said Friday.

The ice floe covered more than 1,400 square miles when it split from the coast of East Antarctica in May, said Neal Young, an Australian scientist working at the Antarctic Cooperative Research Center.

The berg originally measured about 54 by 27 miles, Young said. The biggest chunk, which covers about 535 square miles, is grounded off the eastern coast of Antarctica.

The mammoth iceberg, first observed by a research ship scouting the area, has sheer walls rising 100 to 160 feet above the water, and an estimated depth of 1,000 feet.

Australia’s Antarctic Division is tracking the vast fragments through U.S. weather satellites and European research satellites. The ice chunks were moving with ocean currents at speeds of about 3 miles a day. It may be 10 years before they drift north into warmer water and melt.

The ice island was not expected to interfere with maritime commerce, since ships typically avoid Antarctica because of floating bergs.

Another berg with an area of 850 square miles split from the same section of the ice shelf in 1994. It has drifted some 1,430 miles around the coast.

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