New gigantic and unusual crack in one of the biggest glaciers of Greenland could contribute to a dramatic break in coming years

New satellite images of the Petermann Glacier, one of Greenland’s largest glaciers, show an unexpected new crack in its floating ice shelf that could contribute to a dramatic break in coming… months or years.

The Petermann Glacier is one of the most important outlets by which the Greenland ice sheet extends and flows into the sea. In 2010 and 2012, it lost extremely large pieces, each several times the size of Manhattan, from its ice shelf. Is a mega break going to happen soon again?

These changes are terrifying as Petermann Glacier holds back about a foot of potential sea level rise from the Greenland ice sheet.

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The new and unusual crack that is spreading across Greenland’s Petermann Glacier Image by Gary Hoffmann/NASA via Robin Westenra

Aerial photos of Petermann Glacier reveal new, dangerous cracks in the ice. The Post’s Chris Mooney explains what that means for the glacier’s future.

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The new ice fissure on Petermann Glacier’s floating ice shelf. Image by Kelly Brunt/NASA via Robin Westenra

Since the drama of 2010 and 2012, another large crack has begun to open and stretch toward the center of Petermann’s ice shelf. This suggests the shelf could lose another large “ice island” soon. And if the glacier breaks here the resulting ice island could be 50 to 70 square miles in size.

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Development of the new mysterious crack in the Petermann glacier, Greenland via The Washington Post

The new crack, oddly, appeared to have formed in the middle of the ice shelf, rather than on its side where cracks usually begin. According to first investigations, the new crack has only begun to form since last summer — in other words, it seems to be a new feature, not visible in 2014 or 2015. All researchers that have seen the first images come to the concluion that the crack appears to be unusual and could possibly help precipitate a larger break.

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Location of the Petermann Glacier in Greenland. Already 2 massive break ups occurred thre in 2010 and 2012. via The Washington Post

Eric Rignot comments: ‘The ice shelf is slowly but surely falling apart. It has been stable from 1901 till the 2000s, then started to break up, especially in 2010-2012. We have seen the glacier speed up for the first time around 2014-2015. Whether this new crack is significant or not is hard to tell as of now. It is unusual to see cracks forming from the center, they usually start from the sides. This could indicate that the ice shelf has gotten too thin in the middle.

Scientists just found a strange and worrying crack in one of Greenland biggest glaciers, NASA just snapped the first photos of a mysterious crack in one of Greenland largest glaciers, NASA takes photos of crack in Greenland glacier, new giant crack greenland glacier, Preliminary DMS image of the new rift in Greenland’s Petermann Glacier, directly beneath the NASA Operation IceBridge aircraft. (Gary Hoffmann/NASA).
That’s the exat location of the new crack in one of the biggest glacier of Greenland. via Twitter

Finally some researchers suggested that the new crack may be caused by the larger preexisting one, which could be exerting additional stress across the shelf. The rifting process is on hiatus right now, but it is very likely that the cracks will continue to grow in this summer.

So will take several years before we see ice breaking action like in 2010 and 2012? Or will it lead to a third break-up already this summer?

The summer of 2017 could potentially hold some drama at Petermann glacier.

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