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Watch a Piece of Ice Larger Than Two Empire State Buildings Break Off a Glacier in Greenland

The Jakobshavn glacier, believed to have produced the iceberg that sunk the Titanic, releases more ice into the ocean than any other glacier in the Northern Hemisphere.
Image via YouTube

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If watching ice melt sounds boring, here's a video that might change your mind.

Researchers from New York University (NYU) monitoring the Jakobshavn glacier in Greenland filmed an enormous vertical slab of ice breaking off, tipping horizontally, and floating into the ocean. The glacier chunk was more than half a mile high long — that's more than the height of two Empire State Buildings.


No other glacier in the Northern Hemisphere releases more ice into the ocean than Jakobshavn.

The NYU researchers, David Holland and Denise Holland, use radar and seismic instruments to collect data on such fracturing events, known as calving, in order to better understand how melting glaciers contribute to sea level rise.

"Within the problem of sea level rise itself, the most difficult aspect to deal with from a future projection point of view is the physical process of glacier calving," Holland wrote in a description of the video. "This process is poorly understood due to a lack of physical observations, a consequence of the difficult and dangerous nature of the calving process in which massive pieces of ice are transferred from the land to the ocean."

Jakobshavn, believed to have calved the iceberg that sunk the Titanic, is the fastest-moving glacier in Greenland. In 2012, it receded at speeds never seen before, flowing at a rate of 10 miles per year, according to NASA. It moved nearly three times faster in 2012 than it did in the mid-1990s.

That trend is matched across Greenland's ice sheet, which is second in size to Antarctica's. Greenland's glaciers have lost 739 gigatons of ice in the last 15 years.

According to the National Snow and Ice Data Center, the melting sheet contains enough ice to raise global sea levels by 20 feet. Jakobshavn contributed about a millimeter to sea level rise between 2000 and 2011.

The video was posted by the New York Times' Dot Earth blog with permission from NYU.

Related: The West Antarctic ice sheet is retreating at a much higher rate than previously thought