A Monsterous 300-Square-Kilometre Iceberg, Five Times Larger than Manhattan, has just shed Antarctica

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While the internet was obsessed with that rectangular iceberg, something even more baffling happened related to the ice on the other side of Antarctica.

Monstrous icebergs have been breaking from Pine Island Glacier for the past five years, which is a worrying sign that western Antarctica is destabilizing. The last break occurred on the weekend. The satellite images show an iceberg of approximately 300 square kilometres (five times the size of Manhattan) that emerges from the front of the glacier. By comparison, TU Delft expert Stef Lhermitte told Earther that the tabular iceberg that went viral on the Internet is probably less than 2.5 square kilometres. It is time for the masses to wake up.

“What is most remarkable about this event is that the frequency of ruptures seems to be increasing,” Lhermitte said of the giant that broke away from Pine Island Glacier. In the 2000s, so-called “birth events” or iceberg ruptures of this magnitude used to occur approximately every five years. But since 2013, there have been four events, including one last year.

Icebergs break off from the front of glaciers regularly because glaciers are giant rivers of ice. As the ice upstream flows into the sea, it exerts tremendous pressure on the ice below, which causes the icebergs to break.

But what has been happening on the Pine Island Glacier in recent years could be a sign that the flow is increasing. Satellite images created by Lhermitte show that the size of the rupture front or calving was slowly reduced for decades, but accelerated in recent years, which includes a shrinkage in the glacier of almost 5 kilometres since 2015.

All that activity has helped make the Pine Island Glacier the fastest decreasing glacier on Earth. In addition, the ice has thinned approximately one meter per year in the last 15 years, while it has thrown some 45,000 million tons per year. Much of that is driven by the hot water that eats it from below.

If the disintegration continues, there is concern that it may cause instability in the sea ice cliff, where the ice walls at the front of the breakage become progressively higher due to the descending slope of the seabed. This is expected to cause the remaining ice to wobble, like a constantly growing Jenga tower, and could lead to an even faster break in the glaciers, as the sea level increases.

A Monsterous 300-Square-Kilometre Iceberg, Five Times Larger than Manhattan, has just shed Antarctica

“The changes in PGI, in terms of mass loss and displacement of the ice shelf, are perhaps more important for the future rise in sea level, since the PGI (and Thwaites) region could be one of the important the future loss of mass in Antarctica, “said Lhermitte, referring to the glacier by its acronym in English (PGI) and Thwaites, its neighbor next door.

So forget about the rectangular monster and pay attention to the real problem.

 

 

Source: Gizmodo