World's largest iceberg bigger than New York City

A recently discovered 19-mile crack in the Antarctic will soon give birth to an iceberg measuring 350 square miles.
Written by Tuan Nguyen, Contributor

While there's no shortage of worry over the Arctic's dwindling ice, there's a situation transpiring at the other polar end that appears just as perilous.

Back in October, NASA satellites spotted a massive crack that cuts across the floating ice shelf of Pine Island Glacier in Antarctica. Measuring 19 miles long (and growing), the land mass will eventually rip apart sometime in the next few months and create what will possibly be the world's largest iceberg, a chunk of freshwater ice bigger than all of New York city, according to a report by The Daily Mail. The land mass of all five boroughs that make up new york city (Manhattan, Bronx, Queens, Brooklyn and Staten Island) is a combined 303 square miles. The Pine island iceberg is estimated to cover 350 square miles.

Over the years, glaciologists have kept a close eye on the Antarctic as changes in this region known as "the end of the earth" plays a significant role in the fate of our planet. For instance, about 90 precent of all ice mass can be found at the Antarctic. In essence, the coldest places on earth function as a global air conditioner, locking up humidity in the atmosphere as snow. However, the less stable west Antarctic area where the Pine Island glacier is located happens to be home to the world's largest ice streams, fast moving channels of ice surrounded by slower moving ice walls. And it's also where the much of the ice streams drains out into the sea rather than collect on a large ice shelf.

That's why dramatic situation unfolding down south have scientists particularly concerned. What they noticed was that the crack is moving further upstream than previous breaks in the ice, which is poised to set off a life-altering chain of events. Ted Scambos, a glaciologist at the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) in Boulder, Colorado, tells National Geographic:

When "that point of rifting starts to climb upstream, generally you see some acceleration of the glacier." That means that the ice will flow into the ocean at a faster rate, contributing even more to sea level rise.

Such an acceleration is of particular concern at the Pine Island Glacier, because, among Antarctic glaciers, it's "the one that's contributing the most to sea level rise."

In fact, he said, ice flows from that glacier alone account for a quarter to a third of Antarctica's total contribution to sea level rise.

While both polar caps are losing ice as the world's climate warms, the Pine Island glacier is melting at an alarming rate, about six meters a year, according to an ABC News report.

The crack was discovered by a team of NASA scientists assigned to Operation IceBridge, a six year study of changes in the Arctic and Antarctic. It's difficult to pinpoint exactly when the iceberg will break off. But in the meantime, you can bet we'll be keeping tabs on the situation.

More breathtaking satellite images:

A world in the balance:

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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