A Huge Iceberg Breaks Away From Antarctic Glacier

Posted: Feb 18 2017, 7:14am CST | by , Updated: Feb 18 2017, 7:28am CST, in News | Latest Science News

 

A Huge Iceberg Breaks Away from Antarctic Glacier
Credit: NASA
 

NASA satellite captures the moment the iceberg started to break and enters the ocean

A massive block of ice from an Antarctic glacier has collapsed and splashed into the icy ocean. 

NASA satellite has captured the moment chunk of ice broken away from Pine Island glacier, whic reflects on a continuous retreat of ice in West Antartica. The block was estimated to be a kilometer or two in size. That's about 10 times smaller than the iceberg that broke off in 2015.

In July 2016, the glacier shed a 583 square kilometers of ice block into the waters of Antarctic. When researchers observed the satellite images of the area in 2013, they found signs a rift forming at the base of the ice shelf, which grew upward and cut through the ice surface. The rift eventually caused to dislodge the iceberg from the glacier over the next two years.

“I think this event is the calving equivalent of an ‘aftershock’ following the much bigger event,” said Ian Howat, a glaciologist at Ohio State University. “Apparently, there are weaknesses in the ice shelf—just inland of the rift that caused the 2015 calving—that are resulting in these smaller breaks.”

Long-term satellite observations show that Antarctic’s Pine island glacier is already losing a huge amount of ice each year- about 79 cubic kilometers (19 cubic miles) of ice per year. But researchers suspect that the rate of ice melting will rise in the future with more water flowing off on to the ocean. When ice blocks collapse, they enter into the ocean and add to sea level rise.

The latest iceberg event was captured on January 26 by the Operational Land Imager (OLI) on Landsat 8 satellite.

Although not visible in these images, many more small rifts are visible on Pine Island, some reaching around 10 kilometers from the ice front. This kind of rifts provides another mechanism for rapid retreat of the glaciers, adding to the probability that we may see many more collapses in Antarctica in near future. This also implies that something is weakening the glacier from the bottom and the most likely explanation could be the flow of warm water to its undersides. 

Pine Island Glacier is one of the largest and fastest shrinking glaciers of the West Antarctica. The glacier - roughly two-thirds the size of the UK - has shown nearly continuous acceleration and thinning since 1992 when satellite observations were first started.

The ice lost from this glacier has already accelerated the pace of sea-level rise and more icebergs produced in this way will significantly change the landscape of the continent. 

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Hira Bashir covers daily affairs around the world.

 

 

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