Pine Island Glacier spawn PIGlets | Today's Image

Katie Ramirez
February 14, 2020

Satellite observations of the Pine Island Glacier, often shortened to PIG, show a giant iceberg breaking into smaller pieces that scientists at the European Space Agency (ESA) have dubbed, in good humor, piglets.

This is one of the largest ice streams in Antarctica which flows together with Thwaites Ice Stream into the Amundsen Sea embayment in West Antarctica. More recently, scientists have been trying to determine if the glaciers are entering a period of "runaway" melting. At more than 300 square kilometres (116 square miles), the iceberg was nearly as big as Atlanta and roughly the same size as Malta - although it very quickly fragmented.

Thanks to the images of the European Space Agency's (ESA) Sentinel satellites, a year ago two large cracks were detected in the glacier in 2019 and scientists have been closely monitoring the speed with which these cracks grow.

"It is clear from these images (that the Pine Island Glacier) is responding to climate change dramatically", he added.

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The dramatic changes over the space of just one year show how dramatically a crack can form and grow for icebergs. But since 2013, the glacier has calved five times, according to Stef Lhermitte, a remote sensing scientist from the Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands.

The Boston Globe, citing NASA, reports there is enough "highly vulnerable ice" in the region surrounding the Thwaites and Pine Island glaciers to raise global sea levels by about 4 feet.

"Once that effect starts to go it causes more ice to flow from the continent into the ocean, so they speed up even faster and that feedback process keeps happening". With Pine Island, the ice front has retreated inland, which means the calving rate has increased more than the glacier has accelerated. "Its floating ice front ... has experienced a series of calving events over the past 30 years, some of which have abruptly changed the shape and position of the ice front". This break-up, known technically as a calving event, is the seventh this century for PIG, and the ninth since ESA-built satellites began monitoring the region in the 1990s.

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