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Journey of an Arctic ice island

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Anna Crawford, Peter Wadhams, Till Wagner, Alon Stern, Paul Abrahamsen, C. Richard Bates, Ian Church, Kieth Nicholls

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Abstract

In August 2010, a 253 km2 ice island calved from the floating glacial tongue of Petermann Glacier in Northwest Greenland. Petermann Ice Island (PII)-B, a large fragment of this original ice island, is the most intensively observed ice island in recent decades. We chronicle PII-B’s deterioration over four years while it drifted more than 2,400 km south along Canada’s eastern Arctic coast, investigate the ice island’s interactions with surrounding ocean waters, and report on its substantial seafloor scour. Three-dimensional sidewall scans of PII-B taken while it was grounded 130 km southeast of Clyde River, Nunavut, show that prolonged wave erosion at the waterline during sea ice-free conditions created a large underwater protrusion. The resulting buoyancy forces caused a 100 m × 1 km calving event, which was recorded by two GPS units. A field team observed surface waters to be warmer and fresher on the side of PII-B where the calving occurred, which perhaps led to the accelerated growth of the protrusion. PII-B produced up to 3.8 gigatonnes (3.8 × 1012 kg) of ice fragments, known hazards to the shipping and resource extraction industries, monitored over 22 months. Ice island seafloor scour, such as a 850 m long, 3 m deep trench at PII-B’s grounding location, also puts subseafloor installations (e.g., pipelines) at risk. This long-term and interdisciplinary assessment of PII-B is the first such study in the eastern Canadian Arctic and captures the multiple implications and risks that ice islands impose on the natural environment and offshore industries.
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Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)254-263
JournalOceanography
Volume29
Issue number2
DOIs
StatePublished - 27 Jun 2016

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