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2 massive icebergs floating off Antarctica

By Owen Pye
Associated Press / February 27, 2010

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SYDNEY - A massive iceberg struck Antarctica, dislodging another huge block of ice from a glacier, Australian and French scientists said yesterday.

The two icebergs are drifting together about 62 to 93 miles off eastern Antarctica after the collision on Feb. 12 or 13, said Australian Antarctic Division glaciologist Neal Young.

“It gave it a pretty big nudge,’’ Young said of the 60-mile-long iceberg, about the size of Luxembourg, that collided with the huge floating Mertz Glacier and shaved off a new iceberg. “They are now floating right next to each other.’’

The new iceberg is 48 miles long and about 24 miles wide and holds about the equivalent of a fifth of the world’s annual total water usage, Young said.

The iceberg that hit the Mertz Glacier is called B9B and had broken free from another part of Antarctica in 1987. It has been nuzzling and shifting alongside the Mertz for about 18 years before this month’s dislodging, said Benoit Legresy, a researcher with the LEGOS laboratory for geophysical studies in Toulouse, France.

“It was a slow process,’’ Legresy said. He said B9B was “sitting there, it must have been pushed and pulled by the current every day and used as a hammer to bang on the other one by the ocean currents.’’

The dislodging occurred because of the iceberg’s latest location and water that had warmed during Antarctica’s summer, leaving less sea ice, Legresy said.

Some specialists are concerned about the effect of the massive displacement of ice on the ice-free water next to the glacier, which is important for ocean currents.