Thanks to images the Copernicus Sentinel satellite missions, two large rifts in the glacier were spotted last year and scientists have been keeping a close eye on how quickly these cracks were growing.

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Pine Island Glacier, along with its neighbour Thwaites Glacier, connect the centre of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet with the ocean. These two glaciers have been losing ice over the last 25 years. Because of their extremely remote location, satellites play a critical role in measuring and monitoring Antarctic glaciology.

Since the early 1990s, the Pine Island Glacier’s ice velocity has increased dramatically to values which surpass 10 m a day. Its floating ice front, which has an average thickness of about 500 metres, has experienced a series of calving events over the past 30 years, some of which have abruptly changed the shape and position of the ice front.

These changes have been mapped by ESA-built satellites since the 1990s, with calving events occurring in 1992, 1995, 2001, 2007, 2013, 2015, 2017, 2018, and now 2020.

Mark Drinkwater, senior scientist and cryosphere specialist stated:

The Copernicus twin Sentinel-1 all-weather satellites have established a porthole through which the public can watch events like this unfold in remote regions around the world. What is unsettling is that the daily data stream reveals the dramatic pace at which climate is redefining the face of Antarctica