A massive glacier calf was spotted in several NASA satellite images which were recorded earlier this month. The iceberg, which broke free from the Jakobshavn glacier, could be one of the largest in modern history. Although they are excited about the discovery, scientists are concerned about the implications.
As explained by Business Insider, glacial “calving is the natural process through which glaciers lose mass.”
The process usually begins with a small crack near the edge of a glacier. As the crack is exposed to water and wind, erosion widens the crack until the glacier calf breaks free and falls into the sea.
Greenland’s calving event was discovered by members of the Arctic Sea Ice Forum — who spotted the iceberg on NASA satellite images. As reported by Washington Post, forum members estimate the iceberg is “nearly five square miles” wide and more than 4,500 feet deep.
Although calving events are not uncommon in Greenland, the most recent glacier calf could be one of the Jakobshavn glacier’s largest.
— oddepia (@newstermer) August 25, 2015
The European Space Agency called the event “one of the most significant calving events on record.” If their estimates are correct, the iceberg “could cover… Manhattan Island by a layer of ice about [980 feet] thick.”
Pennsylvania State University glaciologist Richard Alley said he is hesitant to classify the event as the glacier’s biggest, because the images could be deceptive. NASA’s satellite images were captured over a period of 24 hours and are low resolution. Therefore, “the ice loss could have occurred in several smaller events” as opposed to one massive glacial calving event.
— Science World Report (@sciencewr) August 24, 2015
Although it is unclear exactly how and when the glacier calf broke free from the Jakobshavn glacier, scientists are definitely impressed.
The glacial calving event is exciting, as it is unusually massive. However, the implications are disturbing.
Glacial loss in Greenland is one of the biggest contributors to rising sea levels. It is estimated that the country contributes nearly one millimeter to sea levels every year.
Unfortunately, it is unclear how much ice the glaciers are actually losing. Although there are monitoring stations throughout the region, satellite imagery may provide “the most detailed information” available.
Scientist have noted a starting degree of “retreating” along the Jakobshavn glacier. Unfortunately, the recent calving event may have made a negative impact Greenland’s glacial retreating.
Although the data is not precise and the specific implications are unknown, scientists agree the recent glacier calf is significant.
[Image via Shutterstock]