A mysterious crack has been spreading across a giant Greenland glacier, and it’s raising concerns that part of the floating ice shelf could splinter off into the ocean. That could be bad.
Scientists with the NASA field campaign Operation IceBridge recently captured the first photographs of the growing rift while flying over Petermann Glacier, a structure that connects the Greenland ice sheet to the Arctic Ocean.
The new chasm appears in the center of the glacier’s floating ice shelf — the tongue of ice that extends into the water from the grounded glacier on land.
In the photos, the crack appears relatively close to a larger rift spreading toward the shelf’s center. Should the two intersect, part of the ice shelf in northwest Greenland could potentially break off.
There may be a savior for the shelf. A “medial flowline” in the ice could have a “stagnating effect” on the newer rift, helping to slow or halt its advance toward the older chasm, scientists with Operation IceBridge said on Facebook.
Stef Lhermitte, a professor at Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands, first alerted the NASA team to the crack’s coordinates after spotting it in satellite images, Washington Post reported.