Witnessing the Birth of an Iceberg

iceberg birth

Sure, it won't win any "cute" points, but the birth of an iceberg in West Antarctica was special in its own way for being one of the first times scientists have been able to track calving - the process of iceberg formation - over the span of a year. The European Space Agency's Envisat satellite tracked the baby iceberg (measuring a healthy 21 by 12 miles) as it broke away from its parent glacier, the Pine Island Glacier, from September 2006 to October 2007.

Typically prompted by wave/wind action or a collision with a larger iceberg, the calving of icebergs is a normal part of the life cycle of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIT). Past studies have shown that icebergs tend to break off every 5-10 years; the last major one calved 6 years ago. Pine Island Glacier, the WAIS's largest iceberg, accounts for about 10% of the massive ice sheet and is up to 8200 ft (or 2500 m) thick.Despite calving being a natural process, scientists have found that the glacier's flow rate out to sea has steadily increased over the past 15 years; a group of researchers from the University College London and the British Antarctic Survey determined that the WAIS lost close to 7.5 cubic mi (or 31 cubic km) from its interior between 1992 and 2001. The loss resulted in the glacier retreating about 3 mi inland.

Though not an uncommon event in itself, calvings such as this one are projected to increase within the next few decades as climate change continues pushing global temperatures upward.

Via ::LiveScience: Birth of Antarctic Iceberg Imaged from Space (news website)

See also: ::The Melting Iceberg: A Constant Reminder of Global Warming, ::Melting Icebergs Not All Bad News

Related Content on Treehugger.com