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Sea ice is formed from ocean water that freezes, whether along coasts or to the sea floor (fast ice) or floating on the surface (drift ice) or packed together (pack ice). The most important areas of pack ice are the polar ice packs. Because of vast amounts of water added to or removed from the oceans and atmosphere, the behavior of polar ice packs have a significant impact on the global changes in climate.


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Emerging cracks in the Pine Island Glacier

18 October 2019

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The Copernicus Sentinel-1 and Sentinel-2 satellites have revealed new cracks, or rifts, in the Pine Island Glacier – one of the primary ice arteries in the West Antarctic Ice Sheet. The two large rifts were first spotted in early 2019 and have each rapidly grown to approximately 20 km in length.

Mark Drinkwater, Head of the Earth and Mission Sciences Division at ESA, says, "These new rifts appeared very soon after last year's major calving of iceberg B46. Sentinel-1 winter monitoring of their progressive extension signals that a new iceberg of similar proportions will soon be calved."

Pine Island Glacier, along with its neighbour Thwaites glacier, connect the centre of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet with the ocean – together discharging significant quantities of ice into the ocean.

These two glaciers have been dramatically losing ice over the last 25 years. Owing to their extremely remote location, satellites play a critical role in measuring and monitoring Antarctic glaciology – revealing the timing and pace of glacial retreat in Antarctica.

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