Satellite Images Reveal Two of Greenland's Biggest Glaciers Are Losing More Ice

northern greenland glacier crack image
Although researchers may still largely be dealing in uncertainties when it comes to predicting Greenland's exact fate, the data and observations that continue to trickle in suggest a "greener" (see: ice-free) future for the island nation. According to scientists from Ohio State University's Byrd Polar Research Center, there is new evidence to suggest some of Greenland's biggest glaciers are breaking up under the strain of climate change.

Jason Box, a professor of geography at OSU, and his colleagues found that the Petermann and Jakobshavn glaciers, two of Greenland's largest, lost a significant amount of ice over the past month.

greenland glaciers photo

Image from basheertome

Images retrieved from NASA satellites and cameras monitoring the island's glaciers revealed that a chunk measuring 11 square miles (29 square kilometers) broke away from the Petermann Glacier between July 10 and 24. For its part, Jakobshavn lost at least 3 square miles (10 square kilometers) since the end of the last melt season, and its northern section has broken up in recent weeks.

To make matters worse, the scientists observed an enormous crack forming back from the margin of the Petermann Glacier, which Box cautioned could point to "an imminent and much larger breakup" -- a loss that could amount to 60 square miles (160 square kilometers), or roughly one-third of the glacier.

As reported by the AP's Seth Borenstein, this large crack could signal tough times ahead:

However, scientists note that it fits with the trend of melting glacial ice they first saw in the southern part of the massive island and seems to be marching north with time. Big cracks and breakaway pieces are foreboding signs of what's ahead.

Further south in Greenland, Box's satellite images show that the Jakobshavn glacier, the fastest retreating glacier in the world, set new records for how far it has moved inland.

That concerns Colorado's Abdalati: "It could go back for miles and miles and there's no real mechanism to stop it."

While it's unclear whether these latest break-ups are the direct result of climate change -- as I've written about previously, scientists are often loath to attribute a single event, whether it be a glacier crack, wildfire or hurricane, to climate change -- there's no denying they constitute a "major event" (code for "potentially worrying development"), as NASA's Jay Zwally told Borenstein. Indeed, Konrad Steffen, another scientist Borenstein quotes, says that he observed very much the same phenomenon during the 1990s.

Given the recent string of stories we've seen about Greenland's rapidly melting ice cap, it seems more likely that this event is part of a broader picture.

Via ::Agence France Presse: Two of Greenland's largest glaciers lose more ice (news website)

More about Greenland's melting glaciers
::Is it Time to Bid Greenland Farewell?
::Greenland Ice Melting at Record Rate
::NASA Finds Greenland Becoming More Green by the Day