This Shattered Iceberg Under the Midnight Sun Took My Breath Away

Image: NASA
Image: NASA

If the Earth’s been feeling like a cold, dark place, devoid of reason and beauty, let me offer you some new perspective in the form of this stunning image of a shattered Antarctic iceberg under the midnight Sun.


The ‘berg in question, B-44, broke off West Antarctica’s Pine Island glacier in September. Pine Island is the fastest-melting glacier on the planet, shedding about 45 billion tons of ice a year. It drains about 10 percent of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, and scientists worry that climate change could be pushing it into a state of “unstoppable collapse,” raising global sea levels by nearly five feet over the next few centuries.

B-44's unusual breakup—into more than 20 smaller pieces just a few weeks after calving from the ice shelf—was hailed as “worrying.” It could be an indicator that the ice shelf itself is becoming dangerously weak.


But forget about all that for a sec. Just look at the massive shards of ice NASA’s Landsat 8 satellite spied all the way from space, near midnight on December 15th. Look at the long shadows, the only indication that the ‘bergs in question, which encompass some 72 square miles, tower 160 feet over the icy waters.

Here’s a GIF of B-44 and its remnants, stitched together from three months of satellite imagery. Watch the ‘berg float out to sea, become trapped by nearshore sea ice, and fracture along hidden fault lines.

An animation combining five Landsat-8 views of B-44 and its remnants since it calved off the front of Pine Island Glacier in September. Image: NASA

Sure, one could call it a harbinger of the ice apocalypse; a reminder that our coastlines are doomed unless we take increasingly ambitious actions within an increasingly intimidating timetable.


But it’s also a reminder that the forces reshaping our planet can be breathtakingly beautiful. And for some reason I’m feeling optimistic about 2018, so I’m going to focus on that, for now.

Maddie Stone is a freelancer based in Philadelphia.

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I really wish I shared your optimistic viewpoint. It’s an incredible, beautiful planet and we’re poisoning it a day at a time.