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Sunday, August 24, 2008

Huge new crack in Ice northern Greenland

By Seth Borenstein
Associated Press
August 22, 2008

WASHINGTON - In northern Greenland, a part of the Arctic that had seemed
immune from global warming, new satellite images show a growing giant crack
and an 11-square-mile chunk of ice hemorrhaging off a major glacier,
scientists said Thursday.

And that's led the university professor who spotted the wounds in the
massive Petermann glacier to predict disintegration of a major portion of
the Northern Hemisphere's largest floating glacier within the year.

If it does worsen and other northern Greenland glaciers melt faster, then it
could speed up sea level rise, already increasing because of melt in
sourthern Greenland.

The crack is 7 miles long and about half a mile wide. It is about half the
width of the 500 square mile floating part of the glacier. Other smaller
fractures can be seen in images of the ice tongue, a long narrow sliver of
the glacier.

"The pictures speak for themselves," said Jason Box, a glacier expert at the
Byrd Polar Research Center at Ohio State University who spotted the changes
while studying new satellite images. "This crack is moving, and moving
closer and closer to the front. It's just a matter of time till a much
larger piece is going to break off.... It is imminent."

The chunk that came off the glacier between July 10 and July 24 is about
half the size of Manhattan and doesn't worry Box as much as the cracks. The
Petermann glacier had a larger breakaway ice chunk in 2000. But the overall
picture worries some scientists.

"As we see this phenomenon occurring further and further north -- and
Petermann is as far north as you can get -- it certainly adds to the
concern," said Waleed Abdalati, director of the Center for the Study of
Earth from Space at the University of Colorado.

The question that now faces scientists is: Are the fractures part of normal
glacier stress or are they the beginning of the effects of global warming?

"It certainly is a major event," said NASA ice scientist Jay Zwally in a
telephone interview from a conference on glaciers in Ireland. "It's a signal
but we don't know what it means."

It is too early to say it is clearly global warming, Zwally said. Scientists
don't like to attribute single events to global warming, but often say such
events fit a pattern.

University of Colorado professor Konrad Steffen, who returned from Greenland
Wednesday and has studied the Petermann glacier in the past, said that what
Box saw is not too different from what he saw in the 1990s: "The crack is
not alarming... I would say it is normal."

However, scientists note that it fits with the trend of melting glacial ice
they first saw in the southern part of the massive island and seems to be
marching north with time. Big cracks and breakaway pieces are foreboding
signs of what's ahead.

Further south in Greenland, Box's satellite images show that the Jakobshavn
glacier, the fastest retreating glacier in the world, set new records for
how far it has moved inland.

That concerns Colorado's Abdalati: "It could go back for miles and miles and
there's no real mechanism to stop it."

Ohio State University images and data:

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