Video of the Week: Animation Shows Frequency of Antarctic Calving Events

A new animation of Pine Island Glacier calving events in Antarctica demonstrates the immense power of nature. Adrian Luckman, a satellite imaging glaciologist, produced the GIF that shows not one, but three Antarctic calving events occurring between June 2017 and February 2020. The latest event represented in the animation occurred on February 9 of this year. GlacierHub reported on the lead up to this event in October 2019, after the European Space Agency released a video showing huge cracks in the glacier. The rapid retreat Pine Island Glacier has experienced in recent years has drawn significant attention, which includes a 2018 article published on GlacierHub that highlighted the ice loss experienced by the glacier.

Following the first two calving events illustrated in Luckman’s GIF, the icebergs that broke off from the glacier can be seen moving out into the ocean over many months. Given the recent occurence of the February event, such movements cannot yet be shown. As a result, the GIF provides just a glimpse of the third calving event.

The last recorded calving event from the Pine Island Glacier left icebergs floating in Pine Island Bay off the west coast of Antarctica. According to the Earth Observatory at NASA, the largest iceberg that broke off during the February 2020 event is nearly twice the size of Washington, DC. The monstrous iceberg born this year was named B-49 by the U.S. National Ice Center, which is now tracking the iceberg’s movement. The U.S. National Ice Center is an agency operated by the U.S. Navy, Coast Guard, and NOAA, which provides environmental intelligence to the federal government.

Image taken by the Sentinel-1 satellite of the B-49 Iceberg (Source: NASA/Earth Observatory)

Pine Island Glacier calving events have increased in frequency in recent years. NASA reports that these events used to take place on four to six year intervals, however, calving of the glacier has become a yearly occurrence. The increase in these events is indicative of the warming water in Pine Island Bay. The relatively warm water is melting the glacier from below, causing the ice shelf to thin and calving to occur. The glacier is also among those experiencing the fastest retreat in Antarctica.

The calving events depicted in the GIF produced by Luckman are just three from a series that according to the U.S. National Ice Center began in 2000. As the Pine Island Glacier continues to thin, there are likely to be more occurrences. Luckman shares many videos, animations and observations with his Twitter followers. Follow him @adrain_luckman to stay up to date.

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