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World’s largest iceberg heading for HMS Forth’s patrol patch

Section of iceberg A68a as seen from above
8 December 2020
The world’s largest iceberg may strike land in South Georgia this month – peppering its waters with huge shards of ice.

Based on currents and weather conditions, the berg – the size of Somerset above the waves, and larger than Israel below them – is on course to hit the South Atlantic wildlife paradise… which forms part of the domain of patrol ship HMS Forth.

The waters around the island are already known for smaller bergs and growlers – Forth posts a constant iceberg watch on transit from the Falklands, such as last month when she paid her first of the visit of the austral summer to South Georgia.

But a reconnaissance mission flown over the iceberg – designated A68a – by an RAF A400M aircraft found cracks and fissures on the surface, stunning tunnels carved out of the ice, and many smaller bergs in the surrounding waters.

It’s the latter which are of particular concern presently as A68a drifts into the ‘marine protected area’ – more than one million square kilometres of sea and land surrounding South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands.

As well as Forth, these same waters are used by government vessel Pharos, which regularly conduct fishery patrols and surveillance, sometimes icebreaker HMS Protector (currently in maintenance on Teesside), fishing vessels and cruise ships – although the latter have largely been absent this year as the pandemic has curbed tourism.

The absence of the cruise ships prompted the long-range reconnaissance flight from the Falklands for a closer look at the berg – which is also being tracked by satellite.

The berg is the largest remaining section of A68 which calved off the Larsen C ice shelf on the Antarctic Peninsula in July 2017. Its sheer size meant it was impossible to capture in a single photograph, but the images and video captured by the flight, plus the observations of those aboard the A400M have been shared with government officials and scientists from the British Antarctic Survey.

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