Scientists were alarmed last week after discovering that one of Greenland‘s largest glaciers had suffered a small, yet still significant, crack in its ice. Petermann Glacier is now possibly at risk of falling apart completely, say researchers, who are doing their best to look into the matter further.
According to KXLY, it was Stef Lhermitte who noticed the crack as he was looking over satellite images of the area. The discovery was made “almost by accident,” during a methodology test designed to detect melt. The way this test works is that scientists create animated GIFs, using the grainy Greenland images taken by the ESA’s Sentinel-1 satellite. These images are generally black and blue, with specific details being hard to make out and as such Lhermitte’s attention was immediately drawn to the crack in question.
Live Science reveals that the severed glacier was first documented in July of 2016, but no researchers who were combing over pictures at that time seemed to notice it. Lhermitte, who works as an assistant professor at the Netherland’s Delft University of Technology, found this out by vigorously sifting through past years’ satellite images of Greenland’s Petermann Glacier. Understanding the severity of the situation, the professor took to Twitter almost instantly after his finding, posting several images of the crack and asking for advice or opinions on just how this could affect the Earth’s sea-level rise, of which Greenland is responsible for around one-third.
His tweets, reports Smithsonian, sparked the attention of Tom Wagner, director of NASA’s polar research and program scientist for the cryosphere. The images were then shown to his co-worker Joe MacGregor, who is presently in the country leading Operation IceBridge, which was launched in order to create 3D views of the ice in both Greenland and Antarctica, in order to get a better understanding of the rapid changes occurring within. This research is achieved via low-level flights.
Wagner emailed MacGregor, asking him if his team had flown over the area in question recently. Luckily, Operation IceBridge still had one flight to go in their yearly mission, which just happened to be flying over Petermann Glacier. Soon after departure, researchers discovered that the crack was merely a few hundred meters from where they were to be capturing images anyway. Sunny skies allowed for MacGregor and his crew to snap crystal clear shots of the glacier split, with scientists going on to map in detail the exact location. They are now looking into just how concerning the matter is, and whether it may lead to the ice sheet going completely underwater.
By Lorelai Zelmerlow
Photo Courtesy NASA