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It is the Isla de Pino glacier, one of the fastest-shrinking in Antarctica. Days ago, he lost a huge piece of ice in the sea, something that has been happening annually for the last ten years.
In October 2019, large crevasses appeared near the edge of the glacier, something that caught the attention of scientists at Copernicus, the European Union's Earth observation program, who have been closely monitoring the glacier ever since.
Days ago, those crevasses finally cut a chunk of the glacier (a process known as calving), releasing a gigantic puzzle of fresh icebergs into the nearby Amundsen Sea. In total, the icebergs measure approximately 350 square kilometers.
On its own, the recent calving event is not entirely surprising or particularly threatening to global sea levels; Childbirth is a normal part of life for ice formations with sections that float on water, according to NASA's Earth Observatory. Because the ice on the edge of the glacier was already floating, this ice will not directly contribute to sea level rise when it inevitably melts.
However, in the past two decades, calvings have been much more frequent on the Isle of Pines glacier and neighboring Thwaites glacier (also known as the "doomsday glacier") as the ocean surrounding area warms up due to warming of the Earth. While major birthing events used to occur on the Pine Island Glacier every four to six years, they have now become an almost annual event, according to NASA. In the last decade, huge chunks of the glacier broke off in 2011, 2013, 2015, 2017, 2018, and now 2020.
As a result, the Pine Island and Thwaites ice shelves are receding inland faster than new ice can form. Scientists worry that this persistent retreat could be a sign that a runaway melt cycle is in effect: As comparatively warm seawater licks up the newly exposed edges of an ice shelf, melting accelerates, The ice shelf stretches and thins, and a new delivery is more and more likely.
❄️🔴Cracks in the Pine Island Glacier in Antarctica 🇦🇶 have been growing rapidly over the last days, as can be seen in this # Sentinel1 🛰️🇪🇺 comparison of 02 & 05 February 2020. The glacier has been losing #ice dramatically & experienced a series of calvings in the last 25 years. pic.twitter.com/uKcbZmp45F- Copernicus EU (@CopernicusEU) February 6, 2020
According to NASA, the region around the two glaciers contains enough vulnerable ice to raise the ocean by 1.2 meters.
The new icebergs on Pine Island were born just days after scientists reported the warmest temperature ever recorded in Antarctica. On Thursday (February 6), temperatures near a research base on the northern edge of the continent reached 64.9 degrees Fahrenheit (18.3 degrees Celsius), the World Meteorological Organization reported. The previous record was 63.5 F (17.5 C), set in March 2015.