Iceberg the size of Malta breaks up

Pablo Tucker
February 14, 2020

He pointed to an "imbalance" in the glacial system, which meant the impacts of warming temperatures, warmer ocean water and declining of snowfall were not allowing the glacier to replenish itself.

A recent animation (see above) using 57 radar images captured by the Copernicus Sentinel-1 mission shows just how quickly the emerging cracks from the glacier grew - leading to this historic calving event.

Only one of the pieces was large enough to be named (B-49) and tracked by the United States National Ice Centre. But since 2013, the glacier has calved five times, according to Stef Lhermitte, a remote sensing scientist from the Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands.


PIG, along with its neighbor Thwaites Glacier, connects the West Antarctic Ice Sheet with the ocean.

Drinkwater suggested this was due to the continuing instability of the ice shelf, with greater levels of warm water under the glacier causing even greater disruption at the base of it.

Just days after scientists reported the hottest temperature ever recorded in Antarctica, Pine Island Glacier, which is one of the fastest-shrinking glaciers in the continent, has just lost another huge chunk of an iceberg twice the size of Washington, DC.


In October 2019, Sentinel-1 and Sentinel-2 satellites were used to identify two large rifts in the PIG that had drastically increased in length within a matter of months. It also said that since the ice at the edge of the Pine Island Glacier was already floating, it will not directly contribute to sea-level rise after it melts. The ice stream is now moving at about 10 meters (33 feet) per day, which might not seem like much until you know that the average thickness of the glacier front is about 500 meters (1,640 feet). This break-up, known technically as a calving event, is the seventh this century for PIG, and the ninth since ESA-built satellites began monitoring the region in the 1990s. However, the rate of melting and calving in West Antarctica is greater than is being observed in the satellite record.

Thanks to the combination of both optical and radar images from the Copernicus Sentinel satellite missions, growing cracks were spotted in the Pine Island Glacier previous year, and since then, scientists have been keeping a close eye on how quick the cracks were growing.


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