Death of a titan

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Rob Suisted

This summer, New Zealand photographer Rob Suisted was working as a polar guide on a trip to Antarctica. Off the tip of the Antarctic Peninsula the ship approached A23a—the largest iceberg in the world (for now).

“You look at this thing and you can only see a fraction of it, both in its vastness and its depth. It just defies comprehension,” Suisted says.

A23a is 280 metres thick, weighs a trillion tonnes, and sprawls across 3900 square kilometres—three-quarters the size of the entire Auckland region.

When giants like this throw their weight around, they transform the surrounding seas: they generate currents, change the water’s salinity, smash up icy coastlines, gouge the seabed, and even fertilise the ocean with iron from the rock dust they carry.

This particular berg began its journey in 1986, splitting from the Antarctic continent then quickly running adrift in the Weddell Sea. Forty years of melting shrunk it enough to wriggle free, and it’s now drifting north into the comparatively warmer waters of the Southern Ocean—where “it’s in its death throes”, says Suisted. Strange arches and caves are forming as it decays at the mercy of the currents and the sun, fated to dwindle away from behemoth to nothing.

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