Petermann glacier ice island detatchment: some recent historical context

To put the August 2010 Petermann glacier loss into context, below is a review of the major ice area losses in recent times.

The Arctic

  1. The Serson Ice Shelf northern Ellesmere Is. lost 120 sq km (46 sq mi) in 2008 (Mueller, Copland, Hamilton, and Stern, 2008), 4/10 the Petermann glacier area loss.
  2. The Markham Ice Shelf disintegration on 6 August, 2008 was 50 sq km in area (Mueller, Copland, Hamilton, and Stern, 2008), or 2/10 the Petermann glacier area loss. Air temperatures at the closest meteorological stations were the warmest or nearly the warmest on record.
  3. Fletcher’s Ice Island (1952-1954) had an area of ~54 sq. km (~21 sq. mi), 1/5 the area of the Petermann glacier loss.
  4. In 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, submitted).
  5. The next largest area loss in Greenland, outside of Petermann, has been at Zachariae Isstrøm where between years 2002 and 2003, there was a 43 sq. km area loss (Box and Decker, submitted).
  6. We are working to obtain 2010 area changes from other Greenland glaciers, stay tuned.

Not many ice shelves remain in the Arctic. The largest I am aware of are on Petermann, Zachariae Isstrøm, what (little) remains on the northern coast of Ellesmere Is. Canada and other relatively small areas across north Greenland where compacted sea ice prevents some of the glacier calf ice to move out.


  1. The Antarctic Peninsula lost 431 sq km (166 sq mi) in 2008 from the Wilkins Sound during an ongoing loss of the Wilkins Ice Shelf; a factor of 1.6 the Petermann glacier loss.  In a previous epoch between 1995 and 2003, this ice shelf has lost more than 2320 sq km (896 sq mi); a factor of 8.4 the Petermann glacier loss.. Source: Scambos, Fricker, Liu, Bohlander, Fastook, Sargent, Massom (2009).

Antarctica has much larger ice shelves than found in the Arctic. See this summary

Works Cited

  • Box, J.E. and D.T. Decker, Greenland marine-terminating glacier area changes: 2000-2009, Annals of Glaciology, International Symposium on Earth’s Disappearing Ice: Drivers, Responses and Impacts – A celebration of the 50th Anniversary of Byrd Polar Research Center, 16–20 August 2010. The Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio, USA
  • England, J., Lakeman, T.R., Lemmen, D.S., Bednarski, J.M., Stewart, T.G., and Evans, D.J.A. 2008. A millennial-scale record of Arctic Ocean sea ice variability and the demise of the Ellesmere Island ice shelves. Geophysical Research Letters, 35, L19502, doi:10.1029/2008GL034470.
  • Mueller, D.R., Copland, L., Hamilton, A., and Stern, D. 2008 Examining Arctic Ice Shelves Prior to the 2008 Breakup. EOS, Transactions of the American Geophysical Union, 89, 502-503.
  • Scambos, T.A., H.A. Fricker, C.-C. Liu, J. Bohlander, J. Fastook, A. Sargent, R. Massom, A.-M. Wu. 2009. Ice shelf disintegration by plate bending and hydro-fracture: Satellite observations and model results of the 2008 Wilkins ice shelf break-ups. Earth and Planetary Science Letters. 280: 51-60.