A major glacier in Greenland might be breaking apart.
That’s the buzz this week in the polar science community after a big new iceberg emerged at Petermann Glacier in far northwest Greenland. Scientists first spotted an extensive network of cracks in Petermann earlier this year. The worry
is that those cracks may widen during the next few weeks, the warmest part of the short Greenland summer.
Petermann is one of the largest and most important glaciers in the world, with a direct connection to the core of the Greenland ice sheet. That means that even though this week’s new iceberg at Petermann is just 1/500th the size of the massive one that broke off the Larsen C ice shelf in Antarctica earlier this month, it could eventually have a much bigger effect on global sea levels. Scientists believe that if Petermann collapses completely, it could raise the seas by about a foot.
Major breakups also happened at Petermann in 2010 and 2012, but the location of the current cracks suggests the glacier could soon shrink to its smallest size in recorded history. Research conducted in the last two years has shown that it’s melting from both below and above, speeding up its eventual collapse. Another recent study showed that meltwater from Greenland is now the leading cause of global sea-level rise, increasing more than five-fold since 1993. Not good.