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Vast iceberg breaks off Antarctic, penguins face threat

In a development that will disrupt marine life in Antarctic, a vast iceberg nearly 78 km long and up to 39 km wide has broken off its eastern region.

world Updated: Feb 27, 2010 19:45 IST

In a development that will disrupt marine life in Antarctic, a vast iceberg nearly 78 km long and up to 39 km wide has broken off its eastern region.

Researchers have warned that the iceberg, which calved from the Mertz Glacier Tongue earlier this month after it was hit by another huge iceberg, B9B, could have consequences for the area's colonies of emperor penguins.

The emblematic birds may be forced to travel further afield to find food.

"It is a very active area for algae growth, especially in springtime," explained Dr Neal Young from the Australia-based Antarctic Climate and Ecosystems Co-operative Research Centre.

"There are emperor penguin colonies about 200-300 km away to the west. They come to this area to feed and seals in the area also come to get access to the open water," he told BBC News.

He suggested that a change in the availability of open water could affect the rate of food production, which would have an impact on the amount of wildlife it could sustain.

"If the area gets choked up (with ice), then they would have to go elsewhere and look for food."

The calving of the iceberg, which has an estimated mass of 700-800 bn tonnes, has changed the shape of the local geography, Dr Young explained.

"We have got two massive icebergs that - end to end -create a fence of about 180 km. So the area's geography has changed from a situation where we effectively had a box in which two sides were open ocean," he said.