Scientists have come across an 18-mile-long crack in a glacier while aboard their NASA plane on a mission to provide detailed measurements of the icebergs breaking. NASA’s Operation Ice Bridge is a six-year mission that, in hopes, will yield an unprecedented three-dimensional view of Arctic and Antarctic ice sheets, ice shelves and sea ice.
The NASA team estimated the rift at it’s widest about 820 feet apart, and about 260 feet wide along most of the crack.
The deepest points were nearly 200 feet. The ice shelf around the rift is about 1,640 feet thick.
When an ice sheet breaks off a glacier it’s ‘calved’ as it is scientifically known. The ice glacier crack was found in Pine Island Glacier in the Antarctic which last calved a large iceberg in 2001 and is expected to calve again in early 2012.
“When the iceberg breaks free it will cover about 340 square miles of surface area,” NASA stated. By contrast, New York City comes in at 302 square miles. It is likely that once the iceberg floats away, the leading edge of the ice shelf will have receded farther than at any time since its location was first recorded in the 1940s.”
Dr Michael Studinger, a scientist from Nasa’s IceBridge project said:
“The last big calving event occurred in 2001 so in general people have been expecting something like this to happen fairly soon, and for us it is very exciting to see this while it is happening. Eventually, the iceberg will move further north; it will be picked up by wind and ocean currents and the primary ocean current there is the Antarctic Circumpolar Current. We will certainly be following it.”
Until October 14, 2011 scientists had no evidence of the ice sheet cracking and breaking away.
John Sonntag, a scientist with the NASA survey team said in a video posted on NASA’s website:
“A lot of times when you’re in science, you don’t get a chance to catch the big stories as they happen because you’re not there at the right place at the right time. But this time we were.”
IceBridge project scientist Michael Studinger said:
“We are actually now witnessing how it happens and it’s very exciting for us. It’s part of a natural process, but it’s pretty exciting to be here and actually observe it while it happens.”
Watch video below on the huge crack discovered in Antarctic Glacier: