Not too long ago I invited you to think about Greenland, our second largest neighbour. Now I’d like to invite you back to look at it, because a very — very — large piece of its ice cover is about to fall into Nares Strait opposite Ellesmere Island. How large is very large? The piece of ice in question is the tongue of the Peterman Glacier, and the amount destined for a dunking in the next few weeks is something like 5 billion tonnes in weight and an area the size of Manhattan, according to a report in the New Scientist. Evidently a billion tonnes fell off last year. According to Wolfram/Alpha, which is good for this sort of thing, 5,000,000,000 long tons is the equivalent of 1013 pounds, or 1/16 the weight of the total biomass on earth, and 5 x 1012 litres of water (which is perhaps one trillionth of the amount of water in the oceans.).
Moreover, as these large chunks are removed abruptly, the “cork” is removed from the “bottle” and the flow of the glacier to the ocean is speeded up.
As you might imagine, many groups are blaming climate change for this deterioration of the glaciers, Greenpeace prominently among them. They are at this moment sailing between Canada and Greenland, carrying scientists who are examining the Peterman glacier. You can track their progress using a Google map they’re maintaining, and you can follow along in a blog — the Climate Rescue Weblog — by Greenpeace staff.
The New Scientist has a video explaining the melting of the Peterman glacier.