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Ships on alert for icebergs heading towards New Zealand

Icebergs seen from Macquarie Island
The icebergs have already floated past Australian territory Macquarie Island

A warning has been issued to ships in the southern Pacific Ocean after more than 100 icebergs were spotted drifting towards New Zealand.

The icebergs, some of which are 200m (650ft) in size, are believed to have broken from an Antarctic ice floe.

Many scientists have said they believe these segments will break up long before reaching the New Zealand coastline.

The last time such a large flotilla was spotted so nearby was in 2006.

Maritime New Zealand has issued the alert to vessels in the area although it is not a major shipping lane.

Spokesman Ross Henderson said: "It is really just a general warning for shipping in that area to be on the alert for icebergs."

Earlier spot

Glaciologist Neal Young, from the Australian Antarctic Division, said the flotilla was heading towards New Zealand's main South Island.

Mr Young said satellite photography spotted just one cluster of icebergs but that was not to say more were not around.

He said the closest iceberg - about 30m high (98ft), was 160 miles (257.5km) south east of New Zealand's Stewart Island.

Earlier this month the Australian government organisation reported larger icebergs were seen floating off Tasmania's Macquarie Island territory. It is believed this particular flotilla stems from those giant chunks - one which was estimated to be double the size of Beijing's "Bird's Nest" Olympic Stadium.

A number of scientists say they believe the icebergs originally broke away from the Ross Sea Ice Shelf in 2000 and have been drifting and slowly breaking apart since then, reports say.

Icebergs this far north are not that unusual
Wendy Lawson

In 2006, a number of icebergs from the same broken shelf came within 16 miles (25km) of the coastline. Before that, the last sighting was in 1931.

Mike Williams, an oceanographer from the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research, said since the icebergs were moving at a speed of just 16 miles (25km) a day, he did not expect many of them to reach New Zealand's coastline.

Glaciologist Wendy Lawson, from New Zealand's Canterbury University, downplayed the sightings.

She told the AP news agency: "Icebergs this far north [near New Zealand] are not that unusual.

"If an iceberg starts off large, it will last longer in the sea. Its movement and where it ends up is determined by the weather, wind, ocean currents and the temperature," she said.

Scientists are now investigating the conditions which have allowed the icebergs to travel in such a large form for so long.



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