National Geographic News

A satellite image taken Thursday shows the huge ice island calved from Greenland's Petermann glacier.

Courtesy of Prof. Andreas Muenchow, University of Delaware


Greenland's Petermann glacier in 2009. Photograph courtesy Andreas Muenchow, University of Delaware.

Christine Dell'Amore

National Geographic News

Published August 6, 2010

An ice chunk four times the size of Manhattan has broken off of Greenland's Petermann glacier—possibly the biggest glacier collapse in recorded history, scientists announced Friday (Greenland map).

The so-called "ice island" covers a hundred square miles (260 square kilometers) and holds enough water to keep U.S. public tap water flowing for 120 days, according to Andreas Muenchow, a physical ocean scientist and engineer at the University of Delaware.

As a result of the collapse, Petermann glacier—located about 620 miles (1,000 kilometers) south of the North Pole—lost about a quarter of its 43-mile-long (70-kilometer-long) floating ice shelf, satellites images taken Thursday show.

The new Greenland ice island is at least the second largest known glacial breakaway, Muenchow said. Another colossal ice chunk broke off of Petermann glacier in 1962, but it's not known whether that ice island was bigger than the new one, Muenchow said.

Like many glaciers, Petermann glacier has been disintegrating (picture) over the last couple years, he said.

(Related: "Not So Fast: Greenland Ice Melting, But Slower Than Thought.")



Feed the World

  • How to Feed Our Growing Planet

    How to Feed Our Growing Planet

    National Geographic explores how we can feed the growing population without overwhelming the planet in our food series.

See blogs, stories, photos, and news »

Latest From Nat Geo

See more photos »

Shop Our Space Collection

  • Be the First to Own <i>Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey</i>

    Be the First to Own Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey

    The updated companion book to Carl Sagan's Cosmos, featuring a new forward by Neil deGrasse Tyson is now available. Proceeds support our mission programs, which protect species, habitats, and cultures.

Shop Now »