Petermann Glacier front breakup, July-August 2008

A 29 sq. km. (11 sq. mi.) area of the Petermann Glacier in northern Greenland (80˚N, 60˚W) broke away between July 10th and by July 24th.

Petermann has a floating section 16 km (10 mi) wide and 80 km (50 mi) long, that is, 1295 sq. km (500 sq mi); the longest floating glacier in the Northern Hemisphere.

Here is an animation of the breakup.

This 2008 breakup is actually not the largest observed. Between 2001 and 2000, 86.8 sq. km (33.5 sq. mi.) broke away from the Petermann front. However, more breakup is immenent in the next year, for, a large crack has widened while moving toward the calving front.

ASTER image courtesy of Ian Howat showing Petermann Glacier crack

Here is an annual (2001-2007) animation Ian Howat made of the crack flowing toward the glacier front while widening.

If the Petermann glacier breaks up back to the upstream rift, the loss would be as much as and additional 160 sq. km (60 sq. mi); a loss of one third of the massive Petermann ice tongue.

The Petermann glacier thins from 600 m thickness at the grounding line to 70 m at the terminus, see [1]. The crack is advancing to a point where a massive breakup seems imminent, in which case, the area of break-up would be 56-60 sq. miles (147-160 sq. km).


  • Petermann front breakup: small (480×480), large (720×720)
  • End of summer 2000 – 2008: small (720×405), large (960×540)
  • Annual (2001-2007) animation Ian Howat made of the crack flowing toward the glacier front while widening.


  • Initial Breakup 1: small (638×826), large (1276×1650)
  • Initial Breakup 2: small (975×413), large (1950×825)
  • Glacier Front Position 2007-25 July 2008: small (720×540), large (1420×1080)
Addendum (25 Dec, 2008)
Petermann Glacier thins from 600-700 m at the grounding line primarilly due to basal melting [1] calves 0.6 km3 (Higgins, 1990). “The lower 80 km (in length) and 1300 km2 (in area) of the glacier is afloat. This makes it (by area) the largest floating glacier in the Northern Hemisphere. “…”The calving front protrudes a mere 5-10 m above sea level, reflecting the fact that the ice at the front is only 60-70 m thick.” M. Pelto, Real Climate.
Work Cited
  1. Rignot, E., and K. Steffen (2008), Channelized bottom melting and stability of floating ice shelves, Geophys. Res. Lett., 35, L02503, doi:10.1029/2007GL031765
  2. Higgins, A. 1990. Northern Greenland glacier velocities and calf ice production. Polar Forschung, 60, 1-23.


5 Responses to “Petermann Glacier front breakup, July-August 2008”

  1. Petermann Glacier « From a Glaciers Perspective Says:

    [...] in 2008. In 2008 Petermann Glacier lost a substantial area, 29 km2 due to calving as noted by Jason Box at Ohio State. and a crack well back of the calving front indicates another 150 km2 is in danger. Petermann [...]

  2. Jeff Lee Says:

    It’s really alarming how fast the polar ice is disappearing due the continuous emissions of greenhouse gases.
    I don’t know what it’ll take for people to take this seriously :\

  3. Don K Says:

    Very interesting pictures. What exactly caused the break off? Is it a seasonal thing or was there an obvious cause?

  4. Friteuse sans huile Says:

    Let’s hope the global warming won’t affect the glacier too much…

  5. » Blog Archive » Petermann glacier ice island detatchment: some recent historical context Says:

    [...] a survey of daily satellite images spanning 2000-2010, the next largest area loss in Greenland was 87 sq. km (34 sq. mi), also at Petermann Glacier between 10 June and 23 August, 2001 (Box and Decker, [...]