A new study published in Science Advances has revealed that the Pine Island Glacier’s ice shelf is breaking away at a rate much faster than previously measured. If the ice shelf holding the Pine Iceland Glacier together breaks away, the entire iceberg may fall into the sea.

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Initially, scientists thought the ice shelf would take centuries to break away. However, when the rate of ice shelf loss increased in 2017, scientists began worrying that the glacier’s collapse could happen sooner. The latest study references satellite images showing that the shelf blocking the ice from falling into the sea is breaking at an accelerating rate and spawning large icebergs.

This study also shows that the iceberg has retreated by 20 kilometers from 2017 to 2020. The shelf was caught on a time-lapse video from a European satellite. The satellite takes images every six days and offers an accurate representation of changes happening to the iceberg.

Ian Joughin, a University of Washington glaciologist and the study’s lead author, says that change is happening to the ice shelf every minute. “You can see stuff just tearing apart,” said Joughin. “So it almost looks like the speed-up itself is weakening the glacier…And so far we’ve lost maybe 20% of the main shelf.”

Three major breakup events have happened since 2017. These breakups have resulted in icebergs more than 5 miles long and 22 miles wide, which then split into smaller pieces. Joughin warns that the entire ice shelf could fall apart in a few years.

“It’s not at all inconceivable that the whole shelf could give way and go within a few years,” Joughin said. “I’d say that’s a long shot, but not a very long shot.”

Several other experts have also expressed concerns over the ice shelf’s continued disintegration. Isabella Velicogna, an ice scientist at the University of California Irvine (not part of the study), says that the Pine Island and Thwaites ice shelves are a big concern.

“Pine Island and Thwaites are our biggest worry now because they are falling apart and then the rest of West Antarctica will follow according to nearly all models,” Velicogna said.

Via AP News

Lead image via Pixabay