11-million-ton iceberg threatens Greenland village

By Amanda Schmidt, AccuWeather staff writer
July 19, 2018, 7:16:22 AM EDT

An 11-million-ton iceberg hovers over the town of Innaarsuit in Greenland. The massive iceberg floats dangerously close to shore, approximately 500 to 600 feet offshore as of Sunday, July 15.

Town council members told local outlet KNR that this isn't the first glacier to loom over their homes, but it's one of the largest. The iceberg is approximately 300 feet tall.

Satellite images showed the iceberg approaching land on Monday, July 9. The town of 160 residents was partially evacuated and fishing boats were pulled to shore by Friday, July 13.

The low-lying areas of the town remain evacuated as the authorities monitor the situation.

“Everybody is waiting to see what happens to the weather," Kenneth Elkjaer, a radio journalist, said Sunday to AP News.

greenland iceberg 7-12-18

Residents evacuated their homes on the coast of Innaarsuit, off western Greenland, as a 300-foot-tall iceberg came dangerously close to the island, floating within 100 meters of their village on July 12. (Oline Nielsen)

The main threat from an iceberg this large is the risk of large pieces breaking off and causing a mini-tidal wave of water that can flood a low-lying, small coastal town, according to AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Brett Anderson.

It is uncertain whether this will happen with this particular iceberg.

"One thing that can reduce the threat is if the wind gets strong enough from a certain direction to direct the iceberg farther away from the village," Anderson said.

While large icebergs moving close to coastal villages of Greenland are not uncommon during the warm season, this particular iceberg is unusually large. Thus, it poses a greater risk than usual.

Greenland loses roughly 270 billion tons of ice every year as it cycles through seasonal warming and cooling periods.

The one floating near Innaarsuit is just one-10,000th of Greenland's annual ice loss, University of Buffalo glaciologist Kristin Poinar said to National Geographic.

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"Large icebergs are becoming increasingly common in the waters off Greenland and Atlantic Canada since the 1990s," Anderson said.

Warmer ocean waters below the outer edge of the land ice can increase the risk of larger pieces of ice breaking off from Greenland. These ice chunks then flow into the ocean, according to Anderson.

The main threats from icebergs are toward shipping, although advanced technology has greatly reduced the threat of collisions.

Sea ice is relatively thin, and most of it completely melts by the end of the summer. The remaining sea ice is not nearly as thick as typical icebergs, which are the product of land ice, and can usually be broken up by specialized ships, according to Anderson.

The melting sea ice does not contribute to sea level rise. Melting land ice, icebergs, do contribute to sea level rise, which is steadily increasing globally, according to experts.

The main risks from global sea level rise are increasing risks for coastal flooding in many low-lying areas across the world, Anderson said.

Greenland iceberg satellite 07-2018

The satellite image, which was captured by Sentinel-2A on July 9, 2018, provided by European Space Agency esa on Tuesday, July 18, 2018 shows a huge iceberg perilously close to the village of Innaarsuit on the west coast of Greenland. If the berg breaks apart, waves resulting from the falling ice could wash away parts of the village. (esa via AP)

Glaciers are typically found in remote mountainous areas, where they do not pose a direct threat to human populations.

However, some are found near cities or towns and sometimes present a problem for surrounding communities, such as the current iceberg near Greenland, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC).

On land, lakes formed on top of a glacier during the melt season may cause floods, know as glacier lake outburst floods.

For example, Hubbard Glacier in Alaska surged and blocked the outlet of Russell Fjord, entrapping a large lake. Over the summer, snowmelt continued to fill the lake in spring 1986.

In October, the glacier-created dam gave way. The fjord reconnected to the ocean, only after releasing an enormous gush of water equivalent to about 35 Niagara Falls, according to NSIDC.

A similar situation occurred in Peru in 1941 when a glacial lake suddenly burst through its dam. The burst flooded the town of Huaraz below it and caused the death of about 6,000 people.

Ice avalanches from glacier snouts, the end of a glacier, have been recorded in the Swiss Alps for centuries, and they still occur despite attempts to prevent them.

For example, the government of Switzerland was constructing a dam above the town of Mattmark In 1965, when an enormous mass of ice from the nearby Allalingletscher broke off and caused an avalanche. The avalanche buried much of the construction camp, killing 88 workers.

Icebergs that have broken off, or calved, from ice shelves and tidewater glaciers pose a significant threat to sea lanes worldwide.

The Titanic is one of the most famous examples. The ship collided with an iceberg in April 1912, causing the infamous shipwreck.

Shipping lanes along the coasts of Greenland and Newfoundland are historically iceberg-infested waters.

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