Recent satellite images show that a new 100-square-mile iceberg has broken off of Antarctica’s Pine Island Glacier. While this new calving event did not come as a surprise, it is another concerning sign of how climate change is affecting the world’s oceans.
Pine Island Glacier (PIG) — which loses 45 billion tons of ice each year — is the fastest melting glacier in Antarctica. In fact, it is responsible for over a fourth of the continent’s total ice loss. The images taken on September 23rd and 24th reveal a new open-water gap emerging between the ice shelf and the iceberg that measures roughly four times the size of Manhattan
While the unstable iceberg has already created a new batch of smaller icebergs, the chunk is not as big as the one produced by the Antarctic Peninsula’s Larsen C ice shelf a few months ago.
The event came to light when observation satellite specialist Stef Lhermitte at Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands posted the first image of the iceberg. This then prompted other researchers to take notice of the recent development, which they confirmed through MODIS and Landsat 8 satellites.
The area drained by PIG makes up roughly 10 percent of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, meaning it is an extremely important geological feature in terms of global sea-level rise. This is the third major calving event in the last four years, which is why it is so concerning.
Researchers have also stated that rifts in the center of the glacier have begun to spread out to the edges. That suggests the cracks are forming inland, a process likely caused by warm ocean water rubbing against the glacier’s base. That could explain the increased frequency of the calving events and reveal why PIG appears to be thinning.
Currently, the West Antarctic ice sheet is separated from the ocean by a series of large glaciers that are holding back large volumes of ice. If those were to break it could significantly raise global sea levels.
“We are very worried about what might happen to Pine Island glacier in relation to sea-level rise,” said Stef Lhermitte, a satellite observation specialist at Delft University of Technology, according to The Washington Times.