Massive chunk of Greenland glacier crashes into the sea

COPENHAGEN • A massive chunk of ice – larger than the city of Paris, or about one-sixth the size of Singapore – has broken off from the Arctic’s largest ice shelf because of warmer temperatures in Greenland, scientists said.

The 113 sq km block broke off from the Nioghalvfjerdsfjorden glacier in north-east Greenland, which the scientists said had been expected, given the rising average temperatures.

“We’re observing increasing speed on this largest remaining ice shelf,” glaciology professor Jason Box from the Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland (Geus) told Agence France-Presse on Monday.

Geus published satellite images showing the portions of the glacier that had broken off.

While it is normal for pieces of ice to break off from a glacier – a process called calving – they are generally not this large.

According to Geus, since 1999, the glacier has lost 160 sq km of ice, with the loss rate accelerating in the past two years.

“If we see more warm summers like we observed in the last two years, it will be contributing more to the accelerating global sea level rise,” Professor Box said.

The melting of Greenland’s ice sheet contributed to a sea level rise of 1.1cm between 1992 and 2018, according to a study published in science journal Nature last December.

A more recent study by the University of Lincoln in England predicted that the melting ice in Greenland could raise sea levels by 10cm to 12cm by 2100.

Average temperatures in the region have risen by about 3 deg C since 1980 and are expected to reach record levels this year.

According to Ms Jenny Turton, a researcher at Germany’s Friedrich-Alexander Universitat Erlangen-Nurnberg, heatwaves in recent years have accelerated the melting.


As the summer melt season reaches its peak, the largest Arctic ice shelf in Greenland has jettisoned a massive 113 sq km chunk of ice that is larger than Paris. The three satellite images here show the Spalte Glacier in August 2018 (far left), September last year (centre) and last month. PHOTO: REUTERS 

ACCELERATING THREAT

If we see more warm summers like we observed in the last two years, it will be contributing more to the accelerating global sea level rise.

GLACIOLOGY PROFESSOR JASON BOX, from the Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland.

“Each summer, water drains from the Greenland ice sheet onto the tongue of the glacier, forming rivers and ponds on the surface. Refreezing of the water in winter creates additional pressure on the floating tongue, which can lead to calving events,” Ms Turston said in a statement published by Geus.

Researchers said the development mirrored that of a neighbouring glacier, the Zachariae, which collapsed into the ocean in 2015, leading to an increase in calving as it was heated from both the ocean and air.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

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