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British mission to giant A-68 berg approved

From BBC - October 9, 2017

UK scientists will lead an international expedition to the huge new iceberg that recently calved in the Antarctic.

A-68, which covers an area of almost 6,000 sq km, broke away in July.

Researchers are keen to investigate the seafloor uncovered by the trillion-tonne block of ice. Previous such ventures have discovered new species.

The British Antarctic Survey has won funding to visit the berg and its calving zone in February next year.

It will use the Royal Research Ship James Clark Ross.

BAS cautions, however, that the final green-light will depend on the berg's position at the time and the state of sea-ice in the area.

A-68 will need to be well clear of the Larsen Ice Shelf from which it calved, and any marine floes on top of the water will have to be sufficiently thin to allow the JCR access.

"It's fantastic news to have won approval," BAS marine biologist Dr Katrin Linse, who will lead the cruise, told BBC News.

"Antarctic vessels are normally booked out years in advance and for our funders, Nerc, to give us the opportunity on this urgency grant to go this coming season is brilliant."

The drifting berg, one of the biggest ever recorded in the Antarctic, is exposing seafloor that probably has not been free of ice cover for 120,000 years - during the peak of the last warm phase in Earth's history known as the Eemian.

The area has already gained protected status from the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR). This gives scientists priority access and keeps commercial fishing at bay for a minimum of two years, but in all likelihood 10 years.

"We do not really know what we will find; that's what's so exciting," says Dr Linse. "This unknown biodiversity has been covered by shelf ice for thousands of years. It's had no sunlight and therefore it has had no food coming in through phytoplankton."

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