The top of this satellite photo shows a portion of the Petermann Glacier breaking off the northwestern coast of Greenland.

Greenland's Petermann Glacier Sheds 46-Square-Mile Chunk Into Arctic Ocean

ICTMN Staff
7/18/12

The long-predicted latest break in Greenland’s Petermann Glacier has finally come to pass, with an ice chunk the size of two Manhattan Islands shearing off into the ocean on Monday.

NASA satellites captured the July 16 break, which was predicted by scientists some years ago and is considered yet another possible sign of the climate changes being wrought upon Mother Earth. The resulting new iceberg is 46 square miles, the Associated Press reported. NASA has posted before, during and after pictures of the break.

It is only half the size of the one that the glacier calved in 2010, according to Our Amazing Planet. However, with this break the glacier’s front end is the furthest inland that it has been in 150 years, said Andreas Muenchow, an associate professor of physical ocean science and engineering at the University of Delaware, in a statement obtained by Our Amazing Planet.

Scientists had predicted this break, or calving, of the Petermann Glacier when they saw a crack in September 2011. Jason Box, a scientist with Ohio State University's Byrd Polar Research Center, told Our Amazing Planet at the time that he and others suspected a break was imminent when temperatures warmed during the summer.

"It's dramatic. It's disturbing," Muenchow told the Associated Press. "We have data for 150 years and we see changes that we have not seen before."

Collapsing ice shelves can speed up glaciers and raise sea levels by dumping ice into the ocean, much as an ice cube plopped into a drink raises the liquid level in a glass. Since this particular piece of ice was floating already, it is not the type of break to do that, the AP said.

Calving is common on glaciers and has been happening in the Antarctic much more frequently than in the north. Researchers are still trying to figure out whether the Petermann incident was a natural calving and whether it was caused by warming global temperatures. Either way, though, it does augur change.

"The Greenland ice sheet as a whole is shrinking, melting and reducing in size as the result of globally changing air and ocean temperatures and associated changes in circulation patterns in both the ocean and atmosphere," Muenchow told Our Amazing Planet.

The break, he told AP, is "one of the manifestations that Greenland is changing very fast.”

Below is some time-lapse video of previous calvings of the same glacier.

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