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Greenland glacier calves massive iceberg

Historians believe the iceberg that sank the Titanic broke free from Jakobshavn Glacier.

By Brooks Hays
Greenland glacier calves massive iceberg
Satellite imagery reveals a significant calving event on Greenland's Jakobshavn Glacier. Photo by ESA

JAKOBSHAVN, Greenland, Aug. 24 (UPI) -- Satellite imagery suggests Jakobshavn Glacier, a large, fast-moving outlet glacier in West Greenland, has birthed a massive iceberg -- perhaps its largest ever.

Scientists at the European Space Agency have been monitoring the glacier -- the fastest in the world -- for several years. Earlier this month, researchers noticed that the glacier had receded several miles to its most easterly position since recording began in the 1880s. Just weeks earlier, the glacier had pushed aggressively to the west.

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The discrepancy between imagery from early and late August suggests Jakobshavn Glacier experienced its largest ever calving event sometime between August 13 and August 19. Scientists estimate that the birthed iceberg is nearly 5 square miles in size -- "which could cover the whole of Manhattan Island by a layer of ice about 300 meters thick," ESA officials wrote in a blog update.

Icebergs freed from the Jakobshavn Glacier must make their way down a long fjord into the Davis Strait before reaching to the open waters of the Atlantic. Icebergs of such tremendous size are often too big to make much progress in their early days of freedom -- resting in the shallow of the fjord until they melt enough to float more freely. Historians believe the iceberg that sank the Titanic broke free from Jakobshavn Glacier.

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Jakobshavn Glacier drains 6.5 percent of Greenland's ice sheet and a accounts for a tenth of the nation's icebergs, totaling some 35 billion tons of floating ice.

Though the calving event is significant by Greenland standards, it would be dwarfed by the icebergs released by Antarctica's glaciers.

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