European researchers working with NASA have discovered a large crack along the middle of Petermann Glacier on Greenland’s northern coast, a feature that gives further insight into the effects of global warming.
The team in the study worked alongside Operation IceBridge, a group of scientists that flies planes over different areas of Antarctica and Greenland to monitor ice coverage and ice formation. Scientists first discovered the crack in 2014, when a crew led by Stef Lhermitte, an associate professor at the Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands, flew over the area. Since then, scientists have been using satellite photographs to monitor and track the site, Phys.org reports.
A recent set of NASA images shows the crack in great detail. Though there are several breaks in ice sheets across the world, this one is particularly concerning because of its location on the iceberg.
Most glacial cracks occur close to the sea. This is because warmer water temperatures caused by climate change gradually wear down the ice and cause it to break away. However, this new crack is positioned at the center of the glacier, suggesting it may be caused by another source. The team believes the split likely formed as a result of warmer water beneath the glacier.
If the glacier does crack, it would result in a chunk of ice roughly 50 to 70 square miles in size. While that would not change the level of the ocean as some studies have suggested, it would make room for new ice to begin flowing into the sea. That then could then cause global sea levels to rise by a small margin.
Currently, scientists are not sure if the glacier will split. Many factors are still in play, including a medial flow line that exists between the new crack and an older one that formed on the flank. That feature could keep the crack from spreading and hold the ice chunk in place.
Even so, the new break is yet another sign of the effects of climate change. Many large glacier chunks have fallen into the sea over the past few years and the team hopes the new break does not add to that list. They plan to continue surveillance of the area to see what else they can learn about the break’s origins.