A massive ice island that is 25% of the formerly 43 mile long Petermann glacier and is 4 times as big as Mahattan breaks away! This is not the usual melting of the Greenland glacier but calving which took place early on 5th August morning. In fact this is the largest chunk that has broken off from the glacier since 1962.University of Delaware researcher Andreas Muenchow says the ice island is almost half the height of the Empire State Building measuring 625 feet in thickness and 100 square miles in area.
“The freshwater stored in this ice island could keep the Delaware or Hudson rivers flowing for more than 2 years. It could also keep all US public tap water flowing for 120 days”, said Muenchow. The island was first discovered by his assistant Trudy Wohllenben of the Canadian Ice Service. Muenchow and Wohllenben are with a team of researchers who are focusing on the Nares Strait between Canada and Greenland.
Satellite images show the Petermann Glacier has lost a quarter of its 70 kilometer long ice shelf. The Petermann glacier is one of the two largest Greenland glaciers and it ends in floating ice shelves connecting Greenland’s ice sheets straight to the ocean.
Muenchow says anything could happen to the ice island through its journey now. It could block the Nares Strait, it could become land fast or even break into little sections as it moves south under the present ocean currents. This island could further move on to the Canadian coast and contact the Atlantic in the next 2 years.
These speculations are based on past ice islands like the 230 mile long Ward Hunt Ice shelf that broke off in Canada in 1962. This huge island had entered the Nares Strait and broken up and lodged between the real islands in the strait. Right now the ice island is floating 620 miles south of the North Pole and it could melt down in warmer waters over the next 2 years.
Though neither Muenchow nor Wohllenben have identified the reason for this calving, media has been quick to blame global warming. The Sydney Morning Herald was quick to place the island calving in the long list of catastrophes that are weather related. The paper quoted Peter McGuire, Managing Director, CWA Global Markets, “Mother nature is playing a very evil hand. It is always the poor that suffer.”
CNN also reported that Environmentalists believe the ice melt is due to global warming that raised the temperatures in the Artic to the warmest in 2000 years. However, the Science and Public Policy Institute published a report in April 2009 that revealed Arctic temperatures were seeing a downward trend since the 1940s. It also quoted NASA’s 2008 research that cited “unusual northbound winds and currents” as the reason behind ice melts. These currents and winds blow sea ice in the southern direction and bring warmer water towards the North.
Moreover, Calving is different from melting and is merely breaking off from a glacier. The Petermann glacier calving cannot be classified as an environmental threat. SPPI says that 850,000 years ago Greenland did not have ice at all; even if it was to melt completely, the disappearance would be within the natural climate variations.