NASA’s remote sensing instrument, ASTER (Advanced Spaceborne Thermal Emission and Reflection Radiometer), has taken a remotely sensed image of the massive chunk of ice which calved off of the Petermann Glacier in western Greenland on August 5. ASTER is a high-resolution sensor on board the Terra satellite which scans the entire surface of the earth every 16 days.
Perhaps even more amazing, though, are the before and after pictures visible on NASA’s website here.
The iceberg may pose a problem to oil platforms if it does not break up into smaller pieces. Contrastingly, if and when the iceberg does fragment, the smaller pieces could threaten shipping around Baffin Island as the icebergs drift down the Nares Strait. It will take two years for it to reach the Atlantic Ocean. Though there isn’t a lot of shipping in the remote Nares Strait, in June 2009, the Arctic Sunrise ship reportedly became the first to sail through it to the Arctic Ocean during the month of June. Usually, the only ships which can traverse its dangerous waters are icebreakers during the month of August, when the sea ice is at its lowest level.
This is not the first time a massive ice chunk has calved off of a glacier in Western Greenland. Between 1961 and 1962, the Ward Hunt Ice Shelf calved five times, producing one chunk of ice called WH-5 which entered the Nares Strait by the next winter. By 1964, it was floating off the coasts of Labrador and Newfoundland in the Atlantic. Interestingly, one of the ice chunks was so big that it supported a floating scientific research station. Perhaps this might solve the problem of the U.S.’ sidelined icebreakers.
This map below of the drift of WH-5 gives an idea of the geography around Nares Strait, and a general idea of how the newest ice chunk, which has yet to be named, could travel.