Greenland's new ice island slides toward the sea
Earlier this month we helped break news of a huge new ice island that calved off Greenland's Petermann Glacier. (That followed the story from earlier this summer that a major chunk of Greenland's Jakobshavn Glacier broke off as well). So, if you're like me, you may have a few nagging questions in the back of your mind right now:
Where did that ice island -- which is about 40 percent larger than the District of Columbia -- go? Did it break up altogether? Is it roaming the North Atlantic, awaiting collision with a ship, Titanic style? Or is it floating up the Potomac, ready to wreak havoc on the Lincoln Memorial?
Ok, so that last question is ridiculous. Nevertheless, the fact that a massive ice island broke off Greenland, only to disappear from the news cycle, is rather unsettling.
Fortunately, the folks at NASA have answered my first question by recently publishing the above satellite image of the area that gave birth to the new island.
It turns out that the new ice island -- the largest chunk of ice to break off the Petermann Glacier since 1962, having taken one quarter of the glacier's 40-mile long floating ice shelf with it -- is slowly making its way down a fjord in Northwest Greenland, toward the Nares Strait.
The image above, taken Aug. 16, shows that some pieces of ice have loosened around the edges of the island, which has rotated since calving off the glacier. The glacier itself can be seen in the lower right part of the image, looking longingly at the huge piece of its former self... ("pining for the fjords", perhaps?)
According to NASA: "Thin longitudinal cracks appear on the ice island surface, and wider lateral cracks push in from the island's sides. An uneven line of pools, medium blue in color, runs down the length of the ice island."
Although Greenland's glaciers calve sizable icebergs each year, the chunk of ice that broke off the Petermann was unusually large. As CWG's Brian Jackson explained, the iceberg is more typical of the massive icebergs that calve off of Antarctic glaciers than glaciers in the Arctic.
It is unclear what role (if any) climate change may have played in this, as well as with the Jakobshavn event earlier this summer. In general, scientists have observed increased melting of the Greenland ice sheet in recent years through a variety of mechanisms, including warming ocean temperatures that can melt glaciers' floating ice shelves and speed up the transport of ice from land to sea.
For a more in-depth discussion of melting trends in Greenland, see my post from last month.
The views expressed here are the author's alone and do not represent any position of the Washington Post, its news staff or the Capital Weather Gang.
| August 23, 2010; 10:45 AM ET
Categories: Climate Change, Freedman, Science
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