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Posted at 2:15 PM ET, 08/ 6/2010

Massive chunk of ice breaks off Greenland glacier

By Brian Jackson

NASA MODIS image from Aug. 5, 2010, shows a large chunk of ice has broken away from Greenland's Petermann Glacier (iceberg is just to the right of center). Credit: NASA

NASA's MODIS satellite sensor, which has a history of providing breathtaking shots of our planet, was at it again yesterday. A large -- approximately 97-square-mile -- chunk of ice broke away from the Petermann Glacier in northern Greenland. This new ice island (as seen in the image above just to the right of center) is the largest iceberg formed in the Arctic since 1962, according to a University of Delaware news release. It's about 40-percent larger than the District of Columbia.

Icebergs calving off of Greenland's glaciers are nothing new. In fact, the Canadian Ice Service and the U.S. Coast Guard's International Ice Patrol estimate that anywhere between 10,000 and 40,000 icebergs calve from the glaciers of western Greenland in a given year.

What is unusual, however, is the size of this new iceberg, which is more typical of Antarctic than Arctic waters.

The National Ice Center in Suitland, Md., tracks a number of massive icebergs in the oceans surrounding Antarctica, some of which are truly monsters. One, known as D-15, is a little larger than the state of Rhode Island, and 33 are currently being tracked that are more than 10 nautical miles long on one axis.

Most Arctic icebergs are on the order of hundreds of meters long or less. Typically once every few years a larger one, miles long, will break off. Though such occurrences have become more frequent in recent years, as detailed in a news article last month:

The Canadian Ice Service, a federal agency that monitors ice hazards in the Northwest Passage and other summer shipping routes in northern Canadian waters, issued alerts last year about another massive "ice island" from Greenland -a 29-square-kilometre monolith that broke away in 2008 from the Petermann Glacier on the island's northwest coast -as it floated south toward Canada's Arctic shores.
Officials were concerned at the time about the potential risk to cruise and cargo ships, but the Petermann Ice Island eventually eroded and broke into smaller pieces along the coast of Baffin Island.
The collapse of several Arctic ice shelves in recent years has kept the Canadian Ice Service on alert for possible threats to ships and oil exploration activity.
In 2005, a 66-square-kilometre chunk of the Ayles Ice Shelf on Ellesmere Island's northern coast broke free and began drifting south. Federal scientists kept a watch on the resulting Ayles Ice Island as it tracked a worrisome route toward the Beaufort Sea.
But in August 2007, the five-by-15-kilometre slab turned down a dead-end channel between Meighen and Axel Heiberg islands, where it was expected to slowly break up over years and become an anonymous part of the Arctic pack ice.

The Petermann Glacier has been in the news as recently as 2008 when a smaller, though still massive piece of it broke free. The most recent calving is also a bit out of the ordinary when compared to other Greenland glaciers such as the Jakobshavn , which is believed to be the source of the iceberg that sank the Titanic, and Helheim. The Jakobshavn had a noteworthy melting event earlier this summer. (See this RealClimate article for a technical look at the dynamics of glacier retreat.)

So, what will become of this latest iceberg? Chances are that the majority of the iceberg will remain inside its fjord and become frozen in place this fall during the annual freeze up. Still, a large number of smaller icebergs are likely to break off from it and some of these should make it out into the Nares Strait, and from there be swept along with the currents into the northern portions of Baffin Bay.

See CWG's Andrew Freedman's recent column for more on glacial melt in Greenland and possible implications for global sea level rise.

By Brian Jackson  | August 6, 2010; 2:15 PM ET
Categories:  Climate Change, News & Notes  
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The last time a piece of ice this big broke off was 1962. Blaming this on climate change is totally baseless.

Posted by: Tom8 | August 6, 2010 3:12 PM | Report abuse

Haven't heard from Mr. Q. lately. Bet he will discount any global warming implications.

Of more concern to shoppers...wheat prices are soaring. The big heat wave in Russia is cutting into the wheat crop over there. Flooding in Canadian wheat fields may also be a contributing factor. More global warming???

Posted by: Bombo47jea | August 6, 2010 3:12 PM | Report abuse

Breaking weather news: The release by the Boston Beer company of Octoberfest in early August is contributing to an anti-global warming effect. The ushering in of Fall beverages during the summer has caused temperatures in the minds of their consumers to drop a full 2 degrees. Heck - my mind is downright frosty at the thought of a delicious Octoberfest after work.

Posted by: authorofpoetry | August 6, 2010 3:18 PM | Report abuse

Nice one and it will be much fun to follow this piece as it probably will end up in the Atlantic Ocean via a pathway along the coasts of Canada. Looks like we at the University of Delaware with collaborators in Canada and England reported this independently at about the same time, that is, with a manuscript on the regional oceanography of Petermann Fjord for the the 2003-09 period submitted 3 weeks ago for peer review, e.g.,

Posted by: muenchow | August 6, 2010 3:23 PM | Report abuse

Well I hope they caught the break off on film so they can show it over and over and over again in global warming propaganda. I am getting tired of seeing the same old ice chunk break off in every propaganda piece. It's time of a new ice chunk.

Posted by: tmonahan54 | August 6, 2010 3:39 PM | Report abuse

Well I hope they caught the break off on film so they can show it over and over and over again in global warming propaganda. I am getting tired of seeing the same old ice chunk break off in every propaganda piece. It's time for a new ice chunk.

Posted by: tmonahan54 | August 6, 2010 3:40 PM | Report abuse

@Tom8. I may have missed it but where in the article does it say anything about climate change? A bit sensitive?

Posted by: marathoner | August 6, 2010 4:51 PM | Report abuse

I don't think Tom8 is sensitive, I just think he knows the score and what's coming. Just watch.

Posted by: silencedogoodreturns | August 6, 2010 5:01 PM | Report abuse

@Tom8 and others: This article did not assign blame for the calving of this glacier. Nor is there a credible case to be made that climate change caused this to happen. It is a fact, though, that the Greenland ice sheet has been losing mass at a more rapid rate in recent decades, but the ice dynamics are complex.

Posted by: afreedma | August 6, 2010 5:06 PM | Report abuse

The size of this new Arctic iceberg is more typical of Antarctic waters? So my uneducated guess here is that maybe the earthquakes of the Arctic have seismic properties that somehow developed into something which represents the activities of the earthquakes of the Antarctic, in order to produce the wave patterns required to introduce similar fault lines within the overarching structure of the glacial extensions. Though, if such Earthly dynamics are possible, then what would this really mean to us?

Posted by: jralger | August 6, 2010 5:09 PM | Report abuse

The nice thing about reading this on a weather blog is that the ice chunk break is primarily a weather phenomenon. It's a little harder to get a satellite shot of 50 feet of new snowfall up there, but I'm sure the latter would be more impressive on the ground (e.g. for a Viking).

Posted by: eric654 | August 6, 2010 5:09 PM | Report abuse

And the point is??!!?!

Posted by: thornegp2626 | August 6, 2010 5:16 PM | Report abuse

And the point is!?!?!?

by eric2626


The same as any other feature of mother nature-it's purty- or it's awe inspiring.

Or are you one of those people who stares at the massive glaciers(while standing on them, or staring up at them) and wonders when the tour will end, and why they bothered coming on this thing in the first place?

Posted by: barbaramusser | August 6, 2010 7:07 PM | Report abuse

meanwhile, at the other end of the Earth:
If one is to judge by the disinterest of the “old” English-language news media. Nonetheless, the Neumayer polar research station on the Antarctic coast last week recorded the coldest temperature since the station was first established in 1981.

Posted by: sperrico | August 6, 2010 8:00 PM | Report abuse

Yikes! ok, though, even if the Antarctic is cold, I want to hear reports of a new glacier forming somewhere to compensate with the climatological impact of this calving Greenland glacier!

Posted by: Camden-CapitalWeatherGang | August 6, 2010 11:50 PM | Report abuse

Posted by: eric654 | August 7, 2010 9:34 AM | Report abuse

eric654 - It really is important to read the article and not just the title.

From your cited article . . .

Surging glaciers are common and do not necessarily mean a glacier is growing in overall size. But the fact that dozens of them have all surged in the same region hints that larger climate forces are at work.

"It looks like it's the Westerlies," Shroder said, referring to strong jets of wind that pour from west to east in a belt around the planet. Though he can't say for certain, the winds appear to be carrying more moisture from the warming Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean Sea eastward.

Posted by: ktpinnacle | August 7, 2010 11:36 AM | Report abuse

the early release of octoberfest beer doesn't make sense in a warming world: while global warming has caused spring to come earlier lately, fall has been coming later... like you say, maybe it's to trick us into thinking it's cooler than it is...

Posted by: walter-in-fallschurch | August 7, 2010 5:31 PM | Report abuse

ktpinnacle, thanks for reading the article for me! I was just answering Camden's question about whether "new glaciers were forming elsewhere". He mentioned the climatological impact of Greenland calving and the text you quoted talks about the "larger climate forces" at work.

Greenland is calving by larger climate forces. Himalayan glaciers are growing from larger climate forces.

Posted by: eric654 | August 7, 2010 10:38 PM | Report abuse

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