On 12 July this year, one of the largest icebergs ever recorded broke free from the Larsen C Ice Shelf in West Antarctica. The iceberg, known as A68, is starting to move north and will leave behind a 5 818 km2 area of seabed exposed to open marine conditions.
This area is the first to benefit from the agreement by CCAMLR Members at the 2016 Meeting of the Commission, to designate Special Areas for Scientific Study in newly-exposed marine areas following the collapse or retreat of ice shelves across the Antarctic Peninsula region.
The new Special Area for Scientific Study meets the CCAMLR criteria to be automatically designated for an initial period of two years, which is likely to be extended to ten years following further consideration by CCAMLR Members. This will allow for scientific research to be undertaken in the area without any impact from commercial fishing, to address questions relating to how biological communities develop over time, and how new species colonise previously ice-covered areas.
CCAMLR’s Science Manager, Dr Keith Reid, believes this designation of a Special Area provides a unique opportunity for scientific study.
“Much of the sea bed in this area may have been ice-covered since the last inter-glacial period around 120,000 years ago,” said Dr Reid.
“The global scientific community has been offered an unprecedented chance to study how marine life responds to this kind of dramatic change,” he said.
The Larsen C calving event may simply reflect the natural growth and decay cycle of an ice shelf, and is not necessarily due to changes in environmental conditions. However, studying the biological response to such events will provide an opportunity to improve scientific understanding of possible ecosystem responses to the impacts of climate change in this region and elsewhere.
The perimeter of iceberg A68 at the time of calving is used to define the boundary of the proposed Stage 1 Special Area. This has been determined using an image acquired on 12 July 2017 by the European Copernicus Sentinel-1 satellite.
- Conservation Measure 24-04 ‘Establishing time-limited Special Areas for Scientific Study in newly exposed marine areas following ice-shelf retreat or collapse in Statistical Subareas 48.1, 48.5 and 88.3’
- Special protection for area exposed by Larsen C iceberg, News story by British Antarctic survey