Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Crumbling Glacier Quakes As It Breaks

On the west coast of Greenland, a glacier's crumbling edge is producing seismic groans.As the Arctic warms, scientists are keeping a close eye the Jakobshavn glacier. Already one of the world's fastest moving ice streams, over the last decade scientists watched alarmed as it sped up further, sometimes sliding dozens of feet per day toward the Ilulissat Fjord.

The heightened activity is having strange side effects. In 2003, scientists first noticed the glacier producing earthquakes between magnitude 4.6 and 5.1 in strength. The quakes happened slowly, over a period of 30 minutes to several hours, and were undetectable by people even though they registered on seismometers around the globe.Now a new study suggests the huge icebergs breaking off the edge of Jakobshavn are to blame.

Despite recent thinning, the glacier edge is still half a mile thick, and stretches along more than two miles of coastline. When icebergs break off, or calve, they splash into the fjord and grind against its bottom in a small cataclysm; the biggest chunks can stretch along the entire length of the glacier and be 1,500 feet deep.

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