Greenland lost five to eight billion of tons of ice late last month, when a seven-square-kilometre chunk broke away over a period of about 30 minutes.
“It’s events like this—considered a significant glacier loss—that deeply concern glaciologists and climatologists about the consequences to global sea levels,” CBC News reports. “This video may assist scientists in making predictions.”
The video in question was captured by Canadian glacier researcher Denise Holland of New York University, who just happened to have set up her camera after she and her husband, fellow researcher David Holland, had spent four nights on the south side of Greenland’s Helheim Glacier.
They suddenly heard a noise that seemed to carry on “for an extended period of time,” she said. That was when “massive pieces of ice half a kilometre high broke off,” CBC recounts. “The water roiled as the new icebergs rolled and crashed. Then the larger chunk of ice, estimated to be roughly half the size of New York’s Manhattan Island, began its journey to the sea.”
In the end, Holland’s camera documented “one of the biggest glacier calving events captured on video.”
“I was impressed that they captured the event so well and that it had a lot of features to it and complexity to it,” said Senior Research Scientist Ted Scambos of the U.S. National Snow and Ice Data Center. “These things are important because, step by step, that’s how we lose an ice sheet and raise sea level. So understanding these processes in detail is key in getting these models improved.”
While the Hollands dealt with an event involving billions of tons of ice, the northwestern Greenlandic village of Innaarsuit, population less than 200, faces a much bigger threat from a comparative small iceberg weighing in at an estimated 11 million tons. The town is on evacuation alert, the Washington Post says 33 have already been moved inland to safer ground, and people “are very concerned and are afraid,” local council chair Karl Petersen told CBC.
Innaarsuit is located about 600 miles north of the Greenland capital, Nuuk. The iceberg is so big that it’s grounded on the sea floor, CBC notes. But “on Tuesday a small section of it collapsed and caused large waves. Residents are afraid a tsunami will occur if the iceberg calves. Rivers near the community could also experience a water surge,” and the town’s power supply, located near the ocean, could be taken out.
With rain expected in the days ahead, the community’s fate “could be entirely dependent on the weather forecast,” the Post reported Saturday.
“If a strong enough wind blows at the right time, the berg could be dislodged from the spot where it has grounded, and float harmlessly into Baffin Bay. Crisis over,” the paper noted. “But if Mother Nature brings enough rain, the relatively warm precipitation could further destabilize the iceberg, potentially sending a chunk of it into the ocean and creating a tsunami that could wash away part of the town.”