Destructive icebergs threaten Antarctic research

The Nansen Ice Shelf before the icebergs broke off (Supplied / Craig Stevens)
The Nansen Ice Shelf before the icebergs broke off (Supplied / Craig Stevens)

Two huge icebergs are running dangerously close to key climate research equipment floating in the Antarctic Sea, according to leading New Zealand researchers.

There are fears the massive walls of ice, which are 100 metres deep and between five and 15 kilometres long, could destroy a floating research mooring. It's worth between $200,000 and $250,000 and cost up to $1 million to install.

NIWA oceanographer Dr Mike Williams says the icebergs could catch the top of the mooring and drag or break the equipment.

The mooring is 620 metres tall and floats vertically beneath the surface, picking up information on current, temperature and salinity as part of a study on climate change and ice shelves.

It was deployed in Terra Nova Bay in December as part of a joint New Zealand and Korean project.

"We won't know until we go back next summer whether it is still there. We could lose a whole year of data. If that happens it will leave a gap in our research and that's unfortunate," Mr Williams says.

"However, it is a risk we have to take. We could see the crack from satellite images, but predicting when an ice shelf will calve is difficult. It could have happened any time in the next five years."

Scientists have been tracking the developments remotely through satellites and won't know whether the mooring has been destroyed until a ship enters the bay in December.