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Huge Antarctic Iceberg Makes a
BIG Splash on Sea Life 

PRESS RELEASE / Goddard Space Flight Center 1oct03


Visualization showing C-19 moving towards the sea. 
View the entire online movie on NASA website (320x240 MPEG-1, 818 KB)
Index page at NASA: http://svs.gsfc.nasa.gov/vis/a000000/a002700/a002703/index.html 

Visualization showing C-19 moving towards the sea

C-19 iceberg that calved off the Ross Ice shelf and its companion B-15 iceberg, which is anchored near the coast. The two large bergs may have disrupted normal ocean circulation that clears the Ross Sea of seasonal ice during the first months of austral summer. The ice remained in the sea long past previous thaw dates, and created trouble for ships trying to bring in supplies to McMurdo research station on Ross Island. But after months of stillness, in mid-January C-19 changed position dramatically over just a few days, pivoting northward from its eastern end. The effect was like opening a floodgate, and the sea ice trapped between C-19 and B-15 poured out into the Southern Ocean.

NASA satellites observed the calving, or breaking off, of one of the largest icebergs ever recorded, named "C-19."

C-19 separated from the western face of the Ross Ice Shelf in Antarctica in May 2002, splashed into the Ross Sea, and virtually eliminated a valuable food source for marine life. The event was unusual, because it was the second-largest iceberg to calve in the region in 26 months.

Over the last year, the path of C-19 inhibited the growth of minute, free-floating aquatic plants called phytoplankton during the iceberg's temporary stopover near Pennell Bank, Antarctica. C-19 is located along the Antarctic coast and has diminished little in size. Since phytoplankton is at the base of the food chain, C-19 affects the food source of higher-level marine plants and animals.

Kevin R. Arrigo and Gert L. van Dijken of Stanford University, Stanford, Calif., used chlorophyll data from NASA's Sea-viewing Wide Field-of-view Sensor (SeaWiFS). The instrument, on the OrbView-2 satellite, also known as SeaStar, was used to locate and quantify the effects of C-19 on phytoplankton. The researchers were able to pinpoint iceberg positions by using images from the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS), an instrument aboard NASA's Terra and Aqua satellites. The findings from this NASA-funded study appeared in a recent issue of the American Geophysical Union's Geophysical Research Letters.

C-19 is about twice the size of Rhode Island. When it broke off the Ross Ice Shelf, the iceberg was 32 km (almost 20 miles) wide and 200 km (124 miles) long. It was not as large as the B-15 iceberg that broke off of the same ice shelf in 2001 but among the largest icebergs ever recorded.

Since it was so large, C-19 blocked sea ice from moving out of the southwestern Ross Sea region. The blockage resulted in unusually high sea-ice cover during the spring and summer. Consequently, light was blocked. Phytoplankton blooms that occur on the ocean surface were dramatically diminished, and primary production was reduced by over 90 percent, relative to normal years.

Primary production is the formation of new plant matter by microscopic plants through photosynthesis. Phytoplankton is at the base of the food chain. If they are not able to accomplish photosynthesis, all organisms above them in the food chain will be affected. "Calving events over the last two decades indicate reduced primary productivity may be a typical consequence of large icebergs that drift through the southwestern Ross Sea during spring and summer," Arrigo said.

Arrigo and van Dijken also used imagery from the Defense Meteorological Satellite Program (DMSP) satellite Special Sensor Microwave Imager and Scanning Multichannel Microwave Radiometer, managed by the U.S. Department of Defense. The data was used to monitor the impact of C-19 on the movement of sea ice. The data is archived at the National Snow and Ice Data Center, University of Colorado, Boulder.

Arrigo said most of the face of the Ross Ice Shelf has already calved. There is another large crack, but it is very difficult to predict if and when another large iceberg will result.

NASA's Earth Science Enterprise is dedicated to understanding the Earth as an integrated system and applying Earth System Science to improve prediction of climate, weather, and natural hazards using the unique vantage point of space.


The C-1 iceberg broke off the Ross shelf in May 2002. This is an image from NASA's Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on the Terra satellite. CREDIT: NASA MODIS Rapid Response Team

Caption for Item 2: MOVEMENT OF THE C-19 ICEBERG (Image not included in this file)

This is a map of the southwestern Ross Sea showing the drift path taken by iceberg C-19 beginning May 11, 2002 and moving up in the diagram. Also shown is the B-15A iceberg. CREDIT: Stanford University


The animation shows the B-15 (left) and C-19 (center) icebergs in the Ross Sea and the movement of C-19 between September 22, 2002, and February 3, 2003. C-19 drifts from the center of the scene out to the far right edge. CREDIT: NASA/GSFC Scientific Visualization Studio. For high resolution stills from this animation, click here.

Caption for Item 4: SEA ICE AFFECTS SEA LIFE    (Image not included in this file)

These images from the years 2000, 2001 & 2002 shows the greatest amount of plankton in the Ross Sea occurred in 2000, as identified by yellow and red colors indicating chlorophyll in the floating plants. In 2002, more sea ice (dark gray) prevented plankton growth. Black areas are open water regions obscured by clouds. Major icebergs are in white and are labeled. CREDIT: Stanford University

Caption for Item 5: 25 YEARS OF POLYNYAS (OPEN WATER AREAS) (Image not included in this file)

This chart depicts a 25 year record of area covered by polynya in the Ross Sea. In 2002, the area of polynyas, areas of open water surrounded by ice, is much lower than previous years, likely because of the extraordinarily high sea ice concentrations likely due to the calving of iceberg C-19. Polynyas form in areas where the wind blows the ice away or where warm water moves up from lower depths and melts the ice cover. CREDIT: Stanford University


source: http://www.gsfc.nasa.gov/topstory/2003/1010iceberg.html 6oct03

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