Collapse of a giant iceberg in a dynamic Southern Ocean marine ecosystem: in situ observations of A-68A at South Georgia

Large icebergs (>20 km long) are responsible for most of the freshwater discharged into the Southern Ocean. We report on in situ and satellite observations made during the break-up phase around South Georgia of the giant tabular iceberg A-68A. The in situ measurements were obtained during a 4-day visit by a research vessel in February 2021, where physical, chemical and biological measurements were made at a range of distances away from the main and subsidiary icebergs. These results were compared to a far-field station 133 km away. Upstream of the iceberg field, water column structure was similar to ambient water although there was evidence of iceberg-associated phytoplankton as a likely remnant of the passage of the icebergs. Nevertheless, enhancement of primary productivity along the path of the icebergs was not resolved in either in situ or monthly mean satellite observations. There was a considerable brash-ice field moving ahead of the icebergs which limited the number of downstream sampling stations. One downstream station within 2 km of iceberg A-68P showed several ice-melt influenced features that distinguished it from most other stations. Firstly, there was a strong stratified meltwater influenced layer that reached to around 120 m. This had the effect of deepening underlying water masses, with the core of the temperature minimum layer around 50 m deeper than elsewhere. Secondly, there was evidence of rapid downward displacement of both particulate material and certain phytoplankton taxa that may be a further result of this water mass deepening. Thirdly, macronutrient profiles were altered, with concentrations of nitrate, silicic acid and phosphate characteristic of deeper layers being found closer to the surface and a dilution of the ambient nutrient pool just above the iceberg draft that we ascribe to meltwater released from basal melting. Meanwhile, nutrient recycling processes associated with organic matter remineralisation were also modified by the physical restructuring of the water column and biotic components. Finally, the ice-associated phytoplankton taxa Nitszchia/Pseudonitszchia, found in both upstream and downstream locations, were abundant at this < 2 km-distant station through melting out from the iceberg and subsequent rapid growth. Overall, we resolved alterations to water column structure, nutrient profiles and phytoplankton community composition at fine to medium scales around the iceberg field. Nevertheless, although there may have been longer term and larger scale impacts, the dynamic oceanographic environment, including the presence of a strong oceanographic front and shelf-edge processes, dominated during the collapse of A-68A.


Publication status:
Published Online
Authors: Tarling, Geraint A. ORCIDORCID record for Geraint A. Tarling, Thorpe, Sally E. ORCIDORCID record for Sally E. Thorpe, Henley, Sian F., Burson, Amanda ORCIDORCID record for Amanda Burson, Liszka, Cecilia M. ORCIDORCID record for Cecilia M. Liszka, Manno, Clara ORCIDORCID record for Clara Manno, Lucas, Natasha S. ORCIDORCID record for Natasha S. Lucas, Ward, Freyja, Hendry, Katharine R. ORCIDORCID record for Katharine R. Hendry, Woodward, E. Malcolm S., Wootton, Marianne, Abrahamsen, E. Povl ORCIDORCID record for E. Povl Abrahamsen

On this site: Amanda Burson, Cecilia Liszka, Clara Manno, Povl Abrahamsen, Geraint Tarling, Kate Hendry, Natasha Lucas, Sally Thorpe
13 June, 2024
Progress in Oceanography / 226
Link to published article: