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Environment

Japan Tsunami Broke Bergs Off Antarctic Ice Shelf

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What's the News: The tsunami that deluged Japan in March was so strong that it broke off several large icebergs in Antarctica, 8,000 miles away, researchers report in a new paper [pdf]. Using satellite images, the researchers saw the tsunami causing new icebergs to split off---or calve---from an ice shelf, the first time such an event has been observed. How the Heck:

What's the Context:

  • Scientists have long suspected that tsunamis can snap off bits of Antarctic ice, but they'd never before watched it happen. Up until now, researchers have looked at icebergs and worked backward to deduce what events likely caused them to break away from an ice shelf.

  • This also illustrates, as one of the researchers points out, the vast scale on which Earth systems are connected: an earthquake triggered a tsunami which sent icebergs adrift, nearly a day later and a hemisphere away.

Reference: Kelly M. Brunt, Emile A. Okal, & Douglas R. MacAyeal. "Antarctic ice-shelf calving triggered by the Honshu (Japan) earthquake and tsunami, March 2011." Journal of Glaciology, published online August 8, 2011. [pdf]Image courtesy of European Space Agency/Envisat

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