NASA scientists are on watch as a deep crack in Antarctica’s Pine Island Glacier is forcing a major piece to break of the continent. Early estimations are showing that the iceberg is the size of Berlin and it is as tall as an office building, and it will not be long before it will sail away into the ocean which is a worry to environmentalists.
Miles long and 200 feet deep
The crack at the moment is approximately 20 miles long and 200 feet deep and it has been said that it is growing on a daily basis. Scientists have predicted that the ice will separate sometime in late December or early 2012.
Antarctica’s Pine Island Glacier (PIG) is one of the fastest and largest moving glaciers and researchers have said that it accounts for 10% of all the ice moving out of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet into the ocean.
Measurements which have been made have showed that the glacier has been thinning in size from the effects of global warming. However, taking a different stance is NASA who have said that the process is simply part of the 10-year cycle of nature.
The last big ‘calving’ event took place in 2001 and in general this current event has been expected for many years, with scientists very excited to see this happening at first hand.
There are real concerns over the impact the iceberg becoming free. The issues of immediate importance are the implications on the shipping industry as the iceberg makes its way north, and due to its size it will be able to cover a huge distance before it finally loses its battle with the warmer climate and melts away.
Icebergs of this size will add huge amounts of fresh water into the ocean and this will have a big impact on ecosystems. The threat comes from the rocks and boulders the iceberg could carry and drop of as it slowly melts.
Debris will be dropped to the bottom of the ocean and although this may not be considered an issue since it will allow new life to grow and flourish on the seabed, it willl serve as obstacles for migratory sea creatures.
In the middle of October scientists flew over the Pine Island Glacier as part of a project called Operation Icebridge. NASA described this as the ‘largest airborne survey of Earth’s polar ice ever flown’. Plans were in place for NASA to make frequent flights to region to make measurements of the ice shelf, and this is when the crack was noticed.