New gigantic and unusual crack in one of the biggest glaciers of Greenland could contribute to a dramatic break in coming years
New satellite images of the Petermann Glacier, one of Greenland’s largest glaciers, show an unexpected new crack in its floating ice shelf that could contribute to a dramatic break in coming… months or years.
The Petermann Glacier is one of the most important outlets by which the Greenland ice sheet extends and flows into the sea. In 2010 and 2012, it lost extremely large pieces, each several times the size of Manhattan, from its ice shelf. Is a mega break going to happen soon again?
Aerial photos of Petermann Glacier reveal new, dangerous cracks in the ice. The Post’s Chris Mooney explains what that means for the glacier’s future.
Since the drama of 2010 and 2012, another large crack has begun to open and stretch toward the center of Petermann’s ice shelf. This suggests the shelf could lose another large “ice island” soon. And if the glacier breaks here the resulting ice island could be 50 to 70 square miles in size.
The new crack, oddly, appeared to have formed in the middle of the ice shelf, rather than on its side where cracks usually begin. According to first investigations, the new crack has only begun to form since last summer — in other words, it seems to be a new feature, not visible in 2014 or 2015. All researchers that have seen the first images come to the concluion that the crack appears to be unusual and could possibly help precipitate a larger break.
Eric Rignot comments: ‘The ice shelf is slowly but surely falling apart. It has been stable from 1901 till the 2000s, then started to break up, especially in 2010-2012. We have seen the glacier speed up for the first time around 2014-2015. Whether this new crack is significant or not is hard to tell as of now. It is unusual to see cracks forming from the center, they usually start from the sides. This could indicate that the ice shelf has gotten too thin in the middle.‘
Finally some researchers suggested that the new crack may be caused by the larger preexisting one, which could be exerting additional stress across the shelf. The rifting process is on hiatus right now, but it is very likely that the cracks will continue to grow in this summer.
So will take several years before we see ice breaking action like in 2010 and 2012? Or will it lead to a third break-up already this summer?
The summer of 2017 could potentially hold some drama at Petermann glacier.