Scientists of the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research in the Helmholtz Association have been following this natural spectacle via the earth observation satellites TerraSAR-X from the German Space Agency (DLR) and have documented it in many individual images. The data is intended to help solve the physical puzzle of this “calving“.
Pine Island Glacier Antarctica 8 July 2013
On the left handside the newly formed isberg with the a size of 720 square kilometres is visible. Photo: DLR
Scientists from the American space agency NASA discovered the first crack in the glacier tongue on 14 October 2011 when flying over the area. At that time it was some 24 kilometres long and 50 metres wide. ”As a result of these cracks, one giant iceberg broke away from the glacier tongue. It measures 720 square kilometres and is therefore almost as large as the city of Hamburg“, reports Prof. Angelika Humbert, ice researcher at the Alfred Wegener Institute.
The glaciologist and her team used the high resolution radar images of the DLR earth observation satellite TerraSAR-X to observe the progress of the two cracks and to better understand the physical processes behind the glacier movements. The researchers were thus able to measure the widths of the gaps and calculate the flow speed of the ice. ”Above the large crack, the glacier last flowed at a speed of twelve metres per day“, reports Humbert’s colleague Dr. Dana Floricioiu from DLR. And Nina Wilkens, PhD graduate in Prof. Humbert’s team, adds: “Using the images we have been able to follow how the larger crack on the Pine Island glacier extended initially to a length of 28 kilometres. Shortly before the “birth” of the iceberg, the gap then widened bit by bit so that it measured around 540 metres at its widest point.“
The scientists incorporate these and other TerraSAR-X satellite data in computer simulations using which they are able to model the break and flow mechanisms of the ice masses. “Glaciers are constantly in motion. They have their very own flow dynamics. Their ice is exposed to permanent tensions and the calving of icebergs is still largely unresearched “, explains ice modeller Angelika Humbert.
The scientist and her team then compare their simulation results with current satellite data such as from TerraSAR-X. If the model agrees with reality, the scientists can conclude, for example, the gliding property of the ground beneath the glacier ice and how the ice flow could behave in the event of further global warming.
Are ice breaks caused by climate change? Angelika Humbert does not so far see any direct connection: “The creation of cracks in the shelf ice and the development of new icebergs are natural processes“, says the glaciologist. However, the Pine Island glacier, which flows from the Hudson mountains to the Amundsen Sea, was the fastest flowing glacier in the Western Antarctic with a flow speed of around 4 kilometres per year. This speed is less caused by the rising air temperatures, however, and is more attributable to the fact that the wind directions in the Amundsen Sea have altered. ”The wind now brings warm sea water beneath the shelf ice. Over time, this process means that the shelf ice melts from below, primarily at the so-called grounding line, the critical transition to the land ice“, says the scientist.
For the Western Antarctic ice shelf, an even faster flow of the Pine Island glacier would presumably have serious consequences. “The Western Antarctic land ice is on land which is deeper than sea level. Its “bed” tends towards the land. The danger therefore exists that these large ice masses will become unstable and will start to slide“, says Angelika Humbert. If the entire West Antarctic ice shield were to flow into the Ocean, this would lead to a global rise in sea level of around 3.3 metres.Info box: Shelf ice
A NASA background report on the discovery of the first crack and impressive animation videos may be found at http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/icebridge/news/fall11/pig-break.html.
The Alfred Wegener Institute conducts research in the Arctic, Antarctic and in the high and mid-latitude oceans. The Institute coordinates German polar research and provides important infrastructure such as the research ice breaker Polarstern and research stations in the Arctic and Antarctic to the national and international scientific world. The Alfred Wegener Institute is one of the 18 research centers of the Helmholtz Association, the largest scientific organisation in Germany.
Ralf Röchert | idw
New research calculates capacity of North American forests to sequester carbon
16.07.2018 | University of California - Santa Cruz
Scientists discover Earth's youngest banded iron formation in western China
12.07.2018 | University of Alberta
For the first time ever, scientists have determined the cosmic origin of highest-energy neutrinos. A research group led by IceCube scientist Elisa Resconi, spokesperson of the Collaborative Research Center SFB1258 at the Technical University of Munich (TUM), provides an important piece of evidence that the particles detected by the IceCube neutrino telescope at the South Pole originate from a galaxy four billion light-years away from Earth.
To rule out other origins with certainty, the team led by neutrino physicist Elisa Resconi from the Technical University of Munich and multi-wavelength...
For the first time a team of researchers have discovered two different phases of magnetic skyrmions in a single material. Physicists of the Technical Universities of Munich and Dresden and the University of Cologne can now better study and understand the properties of these magnetic structures, which are important for both basic research and applications.
Whirlpools are an everyday experience in a bath tub: When the water is drained a circular vortex is formed. Typically, such whirls are rather stable. Similar...
Physicists working with Roland Wester at the University of Innsbruck have investigated if and how chemical reactions can be influenced by targeted vibrational excitation of the reactants. They were able to demonstrate that excitation with a laser beam does not affect the efficiency of a chemical exchange reaction and that the excited molecular group acts only as a spectator in the reaction.
A frequently used reaction in organic chemistry is nucleophilic substitution. It plays, for example, an important role in in the synthesis of new chemical...
Optical spectroscopy allows investigating the energy structure and dynamic properties of complex quantum systems. Researchers from the University of Würzburg present two new approaches of coherent two-dimensional spectroscopy.
"Put an excitation into the system and observe how it evolves." According to physicist Professor Tobias Brixner, this is the credo of optical spectroscopy....
Ultra-short, high-intensity X-ray flashes open the door to the foundations of chemical reactions. Free-electron lasers generate these kinds of pulses, but there is a catch: the pulses vary in duration and energy. An international research team has now presented a solution: Using a ring of 16 detectors and a circularly polarized laser beam, they can determine both factors with attosecond accuracy.
Free-electron lasers (FELs) generate extremely short and intense X-ray flashes. Researchers can use these flashes to resolve structures with diameters on the...
13.07.2018 | Event News
12.07.2018 | Event News
03.07.2018 | Event News
17.07.2018 | Information Technology
17.07.2018 | Materials Sciences
17.07.2018 | Power and Electrical Engineering