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A Manhattan-Sized Glacier Chunk Just Broke Off in Greenland

Glacial calving creates monster icebergs

(Corbis)
smithsonian.com

Have you ever wondered how icebergs are formed? Well, it all starts when a glacier and an ocean love each other very much. Okay, the answer is actually a bit less anthropomorphic and, these days, a bit more “anthropogenic climate change,” but it’s fascinating nonetheless. And the entire process is perfectly illustrated by the birth of a new iceberg the size of Manhattan off of Greenland’s Jakobshavn glacier, as the UPI’s Brooks Hays writes.

Jakobshavn is the fastest-moving glacier in the world, writes Hays, and satellite imagery suggests that it experienced its largest-ever “calving event,” in which new icebergs are formed, some time between August 13 and 19. The new iceberg is so huge, writes the European Space Agency in a release, that its total ice could “cover the whole of Manhattan Island by a layer of ice about 300 m [about 984 feet] thick.” For Manhattanites, that's about as tall as Four World Trade Center

The Alaska Satellite Facility notes that just as cows have calves, so do glaciers. Calving happens when a glacier’s forward motion causes ice from the front of the glacier to break off. Scientists can figure out which part of a glacier an iceberg originated from by studying its color and density.

Last year, physicist Justin Burton told Phys.Org’s Carol Clark that climate change is driving calving and ice melting, speeding up the process. Every time one of these enormous icebergs break off from their glacial parents, they unleash the energy equivalent of “several nuclear bombs." Scientists are trying to figure out how these massive calving events — like the one at Jakobshavn earlier this month — impact things like waves.

Though Hays notes that Jakobshavn’s recent calving is nothing compared to the icebergs born in Antarctica, the newest berg is pretty dang big. But unlike its brothers and sisters (the iceberg that wrecked the Titanic is thought to have originated in Jakobshavn), the not-so-baby iceberg seems to be too big to be fully released into the ocean just yet. Hays writes that it will probably rest in a fjord in the Davis Strait, melting off a bit before it drifts into the Atlantic.

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