NASA scientists on their way to Antarctica have discovered a crack in the Pine Island Glacier. This is the first evidence NASA has seen of the crack but say it will inevitably become an enormous iceberg. The section reaches out 30 miles into the Amundsen Sea and interlocks with the continental bedrock below. The pressure of the surrounding water will eventually force it to crack off.
IceBridge project scientist Michael Studinger explains:
“We are actually now witnessing how it happens and it’s very exciting for us”
“It’s part of a natural process but it’s pretty exciting to be here and actually observe it while it happens. To my knowledge, no one has flown a lidar instrument over an actively developing rift such as this.”
The crack was noticed as they flew over in their DC-8 while doing work on another project to document Arctic and Antarctic ice sheets, ice shelves and sea ice. Using an Airborne Topographic Mapper the team measured the crack to be 18 miles long, 260 feet wide and between 160 to almost 200 feet deep.
Here’s a NASA video of the Glacier and the crack that has formed:
John Sonntag, Instrument Team Leader for the expedition explains his excitement:
“A lot of times when you’re in science, you don’t get a chance to catch the big stories as they happen because you’re not there at the right place at the right time, but this time we were.”
I wish I had a job like that. The scientist will continue to monitor the area in hopes of catching the transformation of the glacier section into an iceberg. They claim the Pine Island Glacier is the largest source of uncertainty in predicting global sea level change. It’s large and unstable. Interesting!