Icebergs are created when a large crack develops on a glacier and a large chunk of the ice sheet breaks off. Want to see an iceberg birth in action? Then turn your attention to western Antarctica over the next few months. According to NASA, an 18-mile long crack started to develop on the edge of Pine Island Glacier earlier this fall. The piece of ice that will fall off in the next few months—the brand-new iceberg—will be a substantial 300 square miles, the size of the Twin Cities metro area! While the large size isn’t unusual, scientists are concerned because it’s paired with the fast rate at which the glacier itself is melting. According to NASA, after the iceberg breaks off, the Pine Island Glacier will have retreated to its farthest point since researchers began keeping records of the glacier in the 1940s.
According to NASA scientist Patrick Lynch, the Pine Island Glacier is still one of the biggest glaciers in Antarctica. Recently, however, it has begun to release more and more ice into the ocean. Lynch notes that the scientific community is concerned about how its continued thinning will affect sea levels. Bernd from Global Adventures, LLC reports that the glacier “has a greater net contribution of ice to the sea than any other ice drainage basin in the world.” NASA and the National Science Foundation have teamed up to determine whether warmer ocean currents might be the reason.
This is the first time that NASA has captured detailed airborne measurements of a major glacier breakup. The six-year mission of NASA’s Operation IceBridge team will yield a first-time 3-dimensional view of an iceberg’s birth.