During the 2011 NASA IceBridge mission carried out over Antarctica, experts discovered a very large crack spanning the length of the floating tongue connecting Pine Island Glacier to Antarctica. The studies were carried out from aboard a heavily-modified DC-8 aircraft.
Pine Island Glacier is a very large and important piece of ice, as it single-handedly drains about 10 percent of the entire West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS). Now, it is in the process of creating a new, massive glacier, which is already starting to separate from the Southern Continent.
Once it breaks loose, the new ice mass will cover about 880 square kilometers (340 square miles), NASA scientists estimate. At this point, the crack forming behind the would-be iceberg is about 80 meters (260 feet) wide and 29 kilometers (18 miles) long.
“We are actually now witnessing how [icebergs form]. It’s part of a natural process but it’s pretty exciting to be here and actually observe it while it happens,” says Michael Studinger, who is a project scientist for the IceBridge mission.