March 19, 2024 at 9:33 am

Antarctic Glacier Breaks Records As It Cracks Apart At 80 Miles Per Hour

by Trisha Leigh

Source: NASA Earth Observatory

Scientists have been beating the drum about global warming and climate change for decades now, but it’s taking a really long time to move the needle in any meaningful way.

If people won’t listen to them, though, perhaps they’ll listen to a glacier that’s disintegrating at breakneck speed.

Scientists from the University of Washington observed fast-moving crack in an ice sheet in the Antarctic. The crack was over 6.5 miles long, and formed at a speed of 115 feet per second.

That’s 80 miles per hour.

The crack appeared in the Pine Island Glacier Ice Shelf, which is already the fastest melting glacier in Antarctica.

Source: NASA Earth Observatory

Lead author Stephanie Olinger issued a statement about the finding.

“This is to our knowledge the fastest rift-opening event that’s ever been observed.”

Rifts are often precursors to “calving,” when big pieces of ice break off and fall into the sea. Usually, a rift takes months or years to form, but obviously they can also appear much, much, faster.

“This shows that under certain circumstances, an ice shelf can shatter. It tells us we need to look out for this type of behavior in the future, and it informs how we might go about describing these fractures in large-scale ice sheet models.”

Scientists continue to study these rifts in order to understand how glaciers break apart – they’re unsure why, over long periods, glacial ice behaviors more like an oozing liquid instead of a solid.

 “Is rift formation more like glass breaking or like Silly Putty being pulled apart? That was the question. Our calculations for this event show that it’s a lot more like glass breaking.”

Source: Agupubs

This is important, obviously, because climate change is forcing more cracks, and more rifts, than ever before.

“Before we can improve the performance of large-scale ice sheet models and projections of future sea-level rise, we have to have a good, physics-based understanding of the many differences processes that influence ice shelf stability.”

It sounds like it’s in everybody’s best interest.

Not that that has ever mattered before.

Thought that was fascinating? Here’s another story you might like: Why You’ll Never See A Great White Shark In An Aquarium