Published: Fri, February 14, 2020
Science | By

Iceberg size of Malta breaks off Antarctica

Iceberg size of Malta breaks off Antarctica

A story about a glacier shedding mass at the edge of the world, threatening to raise ocean levels and potentially contribute to untold environmental change.

Video released from the ESA shows a time lapse of 57 radar images taken by the Sentinel-1 satellite, which belongs to Copernicus, a joint EU-ESA program created to provide high quality monitoring of Earth.

And it's a big one. As per records, the iceberg was nearly as big as Atlanta at more than 300 square kilometers (116 square miles).

"What you are looking at is both terrifying and lovely", Mark Drinkwater, head of the Earth and Mission Sciences Division at the ESA, told CNN.

Bottom line: Video shows iceberg cracking off Antarctica's Pine Island Glacier.

Last month, scientists also recorded unusually warm water beneath the Thwaites Glacier, a neighbour to Pine Island.

Interestingly, the Copernicus Sentinel-2 mission has captured the freshly broken bergs in detail in a cloud-free image. While large calving events used to occur at Pine Island Glacier every four to six years, they've now become a near-annual occurrence, according to NASA.

Only one of the pieces was large enough to be named (B-49) and tracked by the United States National Ice Centre.

Drinkwater suggested this was due to the continuing instability of the ice shelf, with greater levels of warm water under the glacier causing even greater disruption at the base of it.

"This indicates that Pine Island ice shelf is weakening as a result of warm ocean water and this is important as the ice in the Amundsen Sea Embayment, where PIG is located, is the area where we scientists are most anxious about contributions to sea-level rise", Stef Lhermitte, a remote sensing scientist from the Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands, said to ABC.

Two large rifts in PIG were spotted in 2019 and scientists have kept a close eye on the cracks and changes.

Researchers note that the ice loss of these two glaciers over the last 25 years is outstanding.

The ESA estimates that the ice front, which has an average thickness of 500 meters, will continue to see an increase in the rate at which it discharges blocks of ice into the ocean.

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