Climate change to blame for 42 mile stretch of largest Arctic ice shelf breaking off and shattering


A 42 mile stretch of Nioghalvfjerdsfjorden, the Arctic’s largest remaining ice shelf, has broken off and shattered near Greenland, according to the Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland (GEUS). Nioghalvfjerdsfjorden has lost more than 60 square miles of area since GEUS’ 1999 survey.

Recent record temperatures have hit the shelf particularly hard.

“The atmosphere in this region has warmed by approximately 3 degrees Celsius (5.4 degrees Farenheit) since 1980 and record-breaking temperatures have been observed in 2019 and 2020,” researcher Dr. Jenny Turton explained in a GEUS news release.

The Northern Hemisphere logged its hottest summer on record this year, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration(NOAA). August was especially scorching, with a temperature departure from average of +2.74 degrees Fahrenheit.

GEUS researcher Dr. Niels J. Korsgaard and other scientists weren’t surprised by the finding. “When you observe large parts of an ice shelf breaking off you do raise an eyebrow, but with current developments in the Arctic there is also the realization that this is to be expected,” Korsgaard noted.

Korsgaard cited other examples of ice shelf displacement in the Northern Hemisphere, including Canada’s Milne Ice Shelf, which collapsed into the Arctic Ocean earlier this year.

The section of Nioghalvfjerdsfjorden that broke off and shattered, known as the Spalte Glacier, had been steadily disintegrating, according to GEUS models. Professor Jason Box, with GEUS, expects the ice shelf itself to thin near its trunk and disintegrate in its midsection within the next 10 to 20 years.

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