Witness, the birth of an iceberg.
Operation Ice Bridge, NASA's massive flyover, which is the largest airborne survey of Earth's polar ice ever, has detected a massive 18 mile-long crack along the Pine Island Glacier. According to Space.com, the glacier last produced a sizable iceberg in 2001, but that formation wasn't witnessed in the same fashion as this one.
Pine Island Glacier last calved a significant iceberg in 2001, and some scientists have speculated recently that it was primed to calve again. But until an Oct. 14 IceBridge flight of NASA's DC-8, no one had seen any evidence of the ice shelf beginning to break apart. Since then, a more detailed look back at satellite imagery seems to show the first signs of the crack in early October.
According to Our Amazing Planet, the ice formation lies half on land and half on water, making it a significant factor in determining potential sea levels. NASA says that scientists call Pine Island Glacier the largest source of uncertainty regarding global sea levels.
Nonetheless, they're excited to see this formation firsthand. "We are actually now witnessing how it happens and it's very exciting for us," IceBridge project scientist Michael Studinger told NASA. "It's part of a natural process but it's pretty exciting to be here and actually observe it while it happens. To my knowledge, no one has flown a lidar instrument over an actively developing rift such as this."
Check out the photos and video below to see the gigantic rift for yourself.
NASA writes, "Combined IceBridge and ICESat data show the glacier is losing more than six times as much mass per year -- mass loss was measured at 7 gigatons a year in 2005 and about 46 gigatons a year in 2010 – making it one of the most significant climate change response trends that scientists see worldwide."
Following the March tsunami in Japan, scientists found that icebergs broke off in Antarctica shortly after tsunami waves reached the continent.
Click here to view images of Greenland's icebergs in a warming world.
WATCH the NASA photo slideshow of the Pine Island Glacier below:
WATCH NASA footage of the Pine Island Glacier: