A Giant Iceberg Just Broke Off An Antarctic Glacier


Dr. Alfredo Carpineti

Senior Staff Writer & Space Correspondent

clockFeb 13 2020, 18:14 UTC

The calving event in the PIG. Copernicus Sentinel data (2020), processed by ESA,

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. 

The iceberg was 300 square kilometers (115 square miles), roughly five times the area of Manhattan. The video combines 57 radar images captured by the ESA Copernicus Sentinel-1 mission over the last year, from February 2019 to February 10, 2020. An image from the Copernicus Sentinel-2 satellite was taken on February 11 showing the cracked iceberg at the edge of the glacier. 


The dramatic changes over the space of just one year show how dramatically a crack can form and grow for icebergs. 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.

Scientists are concerned for the health of the Pine Island Glacier. PIG, along with its neighbor Thwaites Glacier, connects the West Antarctic Ice Sheet with the ocean. Their thawing releases a large amount of freshwater into the ocean, impacting the southern ocean composition. 

Researchers note that the ice loss of these two glaciers over the last 25 years is outstanding. The ice stream is now moving at about 10 meters (33 feet) per day, which might not seem like much until you know that the average thickness of the glacier front is about 500 meters (1,640 feet). 


“The Copernicus twin Sentinel-1 all-weather satellites have established a porthole through which the public can watch events like this unfold in remote regions around the world. What is unsettling is that the daily data stream reveals the dramatic pace at which climate is redefining the face of Antarctica,” Mark Drinkwater, senior scientist and cryosphere specialist at ESA said in a statement.

ESA Sentinel missions include radar and super-spectral imaging of land, ocean, and atmosphere. Seven missions are planned in this program, with five currently in operation around the Earth.