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Satellites capture images of Antarctica ice shelf breaking apart from Japanese tsunami

Sunday, August 14th, 2011 4:59pm MDT
Before (left) and after (right) photos of the Sulzberger Ice Shelf illustrate the calving event associated with the Japan earthquake and resulting tsunami that occurred on March 11, 2011. The icebergs have just begun to separate in the left image.

Before (left) and after (right) photos of the Sulzberger Ice Shelf illustrate the calving event associated with the Japan earthquake and resulting tsunami that occurred on March 11, 2011. The icebergs have just begun to separate in the left image. Click the image for a larger view.

Nearly 8,000 miles away the power of the tsunami caused by the March 11, 2011 Tohoku earthquake was felt in a resounding fashion. New satellite imagery released by NASA shows 50 square miles of ice from the Sulzberger Ice Shelf on the coast of Antarctica being broken off due to the waves.

Scientists have speculated that a tsunami could cause flexing of ice and result in pieces breaking off.  The quake and resultant tsunami in Japan have now proven that theory.

NASA researchers utilized imagery from the European Space Agency’s Envisat satellite.  The before and after pictures clearly show numerous icebergs having been calved from the shelf.

18 hours after the quake, the tsunami reached Antarctica.  Imagery taken just prior to the waves reaching the Sulzberger Ice Shelf show it complete intact.  Five days later, imagery shows massive icebergs floating away from the shelf.

The tsunami is estimated to have been only one foot high when it reached the Earth’s southernmost continent.  However the stress was enough to break apart the 260 foot thick shelf and calve an area of ice equal to the size of Manhattan Island in New York.

Douglas MacAyeal of the University of Chicago and one of the researchers who made the discovery said the event shows how connected the planet’s systems are.

“This is an example not only of the way in which events are connected across great ranges of oceanic distance, but also how events in one kind of Earth system, i.e., the plate tectonic system, can connect with another kind of seemingly unrelated event: the calving of icebergs from Antarctica’s ice sheet,” MacAyeal said in a statement.

Satellite imagery from governments and private industry has been useful to scientists and the public in analyzing the disaster.  NASA has trained its eyes in the sky on the disaster struck region and Google has released stunning imagery from its partners.

This story was originally posted on Examiner.com for the Natural Disasters Examiner.  Be sure to check there for the latest natural disasters news.

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