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environment general science genetics health and medicine space technology May 18, 2003 
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Making Sense of Science

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Ice Station Berg (video)
March 29, 2001


Elsewhere on the web

B-15A Image

Doug MacAyeal’s initial prediction of B-15’s trajectory (simulation)

B-15A: AMRC movie

Image of a cracked Antarctic glacier which scientists expect to calve into a major iceberg (STN2 Image of the Week - 3/26/01)

Satellite tracking of B-10

Movie of B-10’s demise at sea


One year ago this week, the biggest iceberg ever known broke off the Antarctic Ice Shelf. Now with summer ending there, the berg known as B-15A is poised to pick up its pace again.

As the ScienCentral News video report at the right shows, National Science Foundation-funded scientists are ready to track its journey thanks to a very unusual airlift.

Whatever happened to B-10A?

In August of 1999, the National Ice Center reported that a large iceberg, called B-10A had entered commercial shipping lanes south of Chile and Argentina in the Drake Passage, the area where the Pacific meets the Atlantic. It is uncommon for an iceberg so large to travel so far north, and subsequent reports that the iceberg was "the size of Rhode Island" with cliffs as high as 200 feet caused a stir. But then there was nothing. What happened?

Well, eventually it melted. This is what happens as the bergs enter warmer waters. And it’s also what makes them particularly dangerous. As the iceberg breaks down, or calves, the smaller pieces (called, no joke, "growlers" and "bergy bits") float off on their own at different paces from the mother berg, and can number in the hundreds. These pieces can still be the size of a house, but they cannot be spotted by satellites. And since they might poke out of the top of the ocean by only a few feet, they’re incredibly dangerous to boats.

B-10, B-15... How are icebergs named?

According to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, iceberg names are derived from the Antarctic quadrant in which they were originally sighted.

A = 0 to 90 degrees West longitude (Bellinghausen/Weddell Sea)
B = 90 West to 180 (Amundsen/Eastern Ross Sea)
C = 180 to 90 East (Western Ross Sea/Wilkesland)
D = 90 East to 0 (Amery/Eastern Weddell Sea)

When an iceberg is first sighted, the National Ice Center documents its point of origin. The letter of the quadrant, along with a sequential number based on how many icebergs have been spotted in that quadrant, is assigned to the iceberg. For example, A-38 is the 38th iceberg the ice center has found in the Antarctica in quadrant A.

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