Japan Tsunami Broke Huge Icebergs Off Antarctica
Aug 8, 2011 11:51 AM ET
By OurAmazingPlanet Staff
The massive March 11 Japan earthquake and its ensuing tsunami were so powerful that they broke off huge icebergs thousands of miles away in Antarctica, according to a new study.
The calving of icebergs (where a huge chunk of ice breaks off from a glacier or ice shelf) from the Sulzberger Ice Shelf in Antarctica was linked to the tsunami, which originated with the magnitude 9.0 earthquake off the coast of the Japanese island of Honshu, by satellite observations of the Antarctic coast immediately after the earthquake.
Icebergs have been reported to calve following earthquakes before, including after the magnitude 6.3 earthquake that struck Christchurch, New Zealand, on Feb 22. But the new finding marks the first direct observation of such a connection between tsunamis and iceberg calving.
After the Japan tsunami was triggered in the Pacific Ocean, Kelly Brunt, a cryosphere specialist at Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., and colleagues immediately looked south — really far south. Using multiple satellite images, Brunt, Emile Okal of Northwestern University and Douglas MacAyeal of the University of Chicago were able to observe new icebergs floating off to sea shortly after the sea swell of the tsunami reached Antarctica.
“In the past, we’ve had calving events where we’ve looked for the source. It’s a reverse scenario — we see a calving and we go looking for a source,” Brunt said. “We knew right away this was one of the biggest events in recent history — we knew there would be enough swell. And this time we had a source.”
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