Massive "Ice Island" Breaks Off Greenland Glacier

On Friday, the Petermann glacier in far northern Greenland calved a massive iceberg four times the size of Manhattan. That's 97 square miles worth of ice, at "a thickness up to half the height of the Empire State Building."

"The freshwater stored in this ice island could keep the Delaware or Hudson rivers flowing for more than two years. It could also keep all U.S. public tap water flowing for 120 days," University of Delaware ocean science professor Andreas Muenchow told the college paper.

Here's another look, with some scale:

Before we go and pin this on the most appealing and headline-creating perp (and oh how the temptation is there, with the break happening as the term "global warming" just celebrated its 35th birthday and all), it's well worth checking out Andy Revkin's post on DotEarth, where he has a couple of glaciologists weighing in on whether we should even be talking about this break in the context of climate change and sea level rise.

(Not that that'll stop me from linking to the rather hilarious comments from Rep. Ed Markey, Chairman of the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming, who said that “an iceberg four times the size of Manhattan has broken off Greenland, creating plenty of room for global warming deniers to start their own country." And this zinger: "Last summer, the House passed landmark legislation to create clean energy jobs that cut carbon pollution. However, it’s still unclear how many giant blocks of ice it will take to break the block of Republican climate deniers in the US Senate who continue hold this critical clean energy and climate legislation hostage.”)

This new ice island broke off of a "floating ice shelf," which means it won't be pushing the seas any higher, as its mass was already sitting in the big ocean tub. But there's little question that the breakup of these floating ice shelves "greases the skids," so to speak, for the land-based glaciers up above to glide down into the ocean. And no matter how you slice it, the loss of volume of the Greenland ice shelf itself is well worth paying attention to. Check out this NASA video of the changes in ice mass since 2003. You'll see it gains mass in a some places (the red areas), but overall it's losing much more (the blue areas), to the tune of roughly 1,200 gigatonnes over the past seven years.


Top photo: NASA, arrow added by author.

Video credit: NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center Scientific Visualization Studio

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