A University of Delaware researcher reported Friday that an "ice island" four times the size of Manhattan calved off from Greenland's Petermann Glacier. The last time the Arctic lost such a large chunk of ice was in 1962.
"In the early morning hours of August 5, 2010, an ice island four times the size of Manhattan was born in northern Greenland," said Andreas Muenchow, associate professor of physical ocean science and engineering at the University of Delaware. Muenchow's research in Nares Strait, between Greenland and Canada, is supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF).
Satellite imagery of this remote area at 81 degrees N latitude and 61 degrees W longitude, about 620 miles south of the North Pole, reveals that Petermann Glacier lost about one-quarter of its 43-mile long floating ice-shelf.
Trudy Wohlleben of the Canadian Ice Service discovered the ice island within hours after NASA's MODIS-Aqua satellite took the data at 8:40 GMT on Thursday, Muenchow said. These raw data were downloaded, processed, and analyzed at the University of Delaware in near real-time as part of Muenchow's NSF research.
Petermann Glacier, the parent of the new ice island, is one of the two largest remaining glaciers in Greenland that terminate in floating shelves. The glacier connects the great Greenland ice sheet directly with the ocean.
The new ice island has an area of at least 100 square miles and a thickness up to half the height of the Empire State Building.
"The freshwater stored in this ice island could keep the Delaware or Hudson rivers flowing for more than two years. It could also keep all U.S. public tap water flowing for 120 days," Muenchow said.
The last time such a massive ice island formed was in 1962 when Ward Hunt Ice Shelf calved a 230 square-mile island, smaller pieces of which became lodged between real islands inside Nares Strait.