- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 24, 2005

The collision between the world’s largest floating object and a 60-mile pier of ice at the very bottom of the planet has at last occurred.

“Maps of Antarctica need to be amended,” the European Space Agency (ESA) announced upon releasing the proof of it: a satellite photo of the now-infamous B-15A iceberg — about the size and shape of Long Island — hitting the Drygalski Ice Tongue, which is 60 miles long, 17 miles wide and possibly 4,000 years old.

“The ice tongue, large and permanent enough to feature in Antarctic atlases, has come off worse,” the agency said.

Eager researchers who have tracked the impending pileup since January billed it “the collision of the century.” They estimate the big moment happened about a week ago.

The maps won’t have to be amended much: B-15A only snapped off a 4-mile chunk of the ice, an extension of the David glacier. However, B-15A may have a few tricks left.

“While this initial contact has seemed anticlimactic, B-15A is not out of the area yet, and has been rotating in a counterclockwise direction,” said National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration meteorologist Sean Helfrich, who monitors such titanic duels at the National Ice Center in Maryland.

“I’m not sure it’s completely done. It’s still on the move,” he said. “I’m not sure we’ve witnessed all the collisions yet.”

It is a slow-motion process, to be sure. At top speed, B-15A drifts about 1 kilometer on a good day, Mr. Helfrich said. The iceberg ran aground earlier this year and spent weeks beached on what some scientists believe was a behemoth sandbar in McMurdo Sound.

“B15-A is now entering an area with less concentrated ice, with strong westerly winds. We don’t know what’s going to happen. Only time will tell,” Mr. Helfrich added.

Often dubbed a “rogue” and “renegade,” B15-A has intrigued the global press with its adventures since it broke away from B-15, a berg as big as Jamaica, five years ago.

The collision itself has been open to interpretation.

The London Times called it “clash of the ice titans” while the BBC eagerly announced, “an iceberg the size of Luxembourg has smashed into another vast slab of ice.” The New Zealand Herald described the event as an “iceberg crash.”

The government science agency Antarctic New Zealand, meanwhile, characterized it Friday as “more nudge than collision.”

Meteorologist Mr. Helfrich had his own comparison.

“The driver’s-side door of B15-A hit the front end of Drygalski,” he said. “Everybody thought it was going to be a head-on collision.”

Still, scientists in the area fret that the restless berg could block sea access to nearby research stations maintained by the United States, Italy and New Zealand. Food supplies for thousands of penguins also may have been affected.

Multiple satellite photographs of B15-A — including an animated montage showing the collision itself — can be seen at the ESA Web site, www.esa.int.

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