One of Greenland’s biggest glaciers could be in trouble. A Netherlands university professor pointed out a new chasm in the Petermann Glacier, as seen in satellite images. NASA’s Operation IceBridge recently went over to check it out and captured photographs that don’t look too good. Scientists say the crack is in an unusual place, and aren’t sure what caused it.
Delft University of Technology professor Stef Lhermitte provided coordinates for Operation IceBridge, which flew over the rift to snap pictures. The significant crack is close to the center of Petermann Glacier’s floating ice shelf, which is a strange place for it to be according to scientists. The new chasm is not too far away from another longer and wider rift snaking towards the center of the ice shelf from the eastern side wall, and if the two intersect, a chunk could break off.
There may be some hope – a feature NASA called a medial flowline could “exert a stagnating effect on the propagation of the new rift toward the older one.”
Petermann Glacier has seen ice islands break off in the past, in 2010 and 2012. The 2010 chunk was over four times the size of Manhattan, and according to Massachusetts representative Edward J. Markey was the “largest piece of Arctic ice to break free in nearly half a century.” Since those two events the glacier has grown back a bit, but should another ice island break off, the Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland’s Jason Box told The Washington Post it could be over two times as big as Manhattan, or 50 to 70 square miles big.
Lhermitte, after looking at NASA’s recent images, told The Washington Post, “From these images alone, it is difficult to already say anything about what exactly caused the crack on this unusual spot.”