Greenpeace expected massive break-off from Greenland glacier

Environmental watchdog Greenpeace said Thursday it was expecting the disintegration of the Petermann glacier in north-western Greenland, from which a massive ice island four times the size of Manhattan broke off earlier this month.

“We had been expecting since last year that unavoidable break of the edge of the glacier, which we studied closely with an international team of researchers during an expedition in July and August 2009,” Mads Flarup Christensen, who heads Greenpeace in the Nordic countries, told AFP.

He said the expedition had found "breaches in the glacier" that foretold the coming disintegration.

Early on August 5, "an ice island four times the size of Manhattan was born in northern Greenland," after breaking off from Petermann, Andreas Muenchow at the University of Delaware said in a statement Friday.

He added that the last time the Arctic lost such a large chunk of ice was in 1962.

More recently, the glacier has lost smaller islands of ice, said Jason Box, of the polar research centre of the University of Ohio, who took part in Greenpeace's expedition.

Box and colleagues David Decker et Russ Benson found the Petermann glacier has in total retreated 21 kilometers (13 miles) in just 10 years.

Greenpeace's Christensen said Petermann has retreated to a "historical level" and is putting out "more icebergs, at an accelerated pace."

The Petermann glacier is one of Greenland's two largest that end in floating shelves and connect the Danish territory's ice sheet directly with the ocean.

Greenland's continent-sized icesheet has been melting drastically, according to an Arctic Council report published at the end of 2009.

But the experts of the University of Ohio's polar centre, just like Greenpeace, do not link the disintegration of the glacier directly to global warming.

The University of Ohio experts however noted the 2009-2010 winter and the month of May were the warmest on record since 1873 at Nuuk, southwest Greenland, and that at Upernavik, in northwest Greenland, air temperatures are well above normal in 2010.