A particularly massive iceberg is threatening a tiny seaside settlement on the west coast of Greenland, and has prompted a partial evacuation, according to NPR. The iceberg is 330 feet (100 meters) high, the size of a small skyscraper, and looming over Innaarsuit, a tiny settlement of about 170 residents. If it breaks apart, it could cause a tsunami, or less dramatic but similarly dangerous flooding.
“We fear the iceberg could calve and send a flood towards the village,” according to Lina Davidsen, of the Greenland police.
According to New York University oceanographer David Holland, who spends summers conducting research in Greenland:
“It’s kind of like, if you lived in the suburbs, and you woke up one morning and looked out, and there was a skyscraper next to your house. I’d be the first to get out of there…In these shallow bays, these icebergs may drift in and become stuck, grounded on the sea floor. So that’s what happened to one of these bergs.”
In a nearby area of northwestern Greenland, a landslide caused a tsunami last year, and destroyed several homes.
Innaarsuit council member Susanne Eliassen said that while it’s not unusual for large icebergs to come close to the settlement, “this iceberg is the biggest we have seen … and there are cracks and holes that make us fear it can calve anytime.”
“Nobody is staying unnecessarily close to the beach and all children have been told to stay in areas that are high up,” she added.
Innaarsuit’s power station and fuel tanks are positioned dangerously close to the water. Local police have dispatched a helicopter to monitor the situation. As of yesterday, 33 residents had been evacuated.
According to Greenland researcher William Colgan, from the Geological Survey of Denmark, such events have become more frequent as climate change intensifies.
“Iceberg production in Greenland has been increasing in the past 100 years as climate change has become stronger…increasing the tsunami hazards,” Colgan said.
Increased iceberg production also contributes to global sea level rise.
Last month, NYU researchers, including Holland and his wife, Denise Holland, released a time-lapse video of a huge iceberg breaking off of into the ocean off of eastern Greenland. The couple were camping near a glacier to collect data on such events to project sea level rise.
David Holland said the break was “the largest event we’ve seen in over a decade in Greenland.”
The research in Greenland, while important in its own right, is also to crucial for making projections about similar processes in Antarctica, “where everything is so big the stakes are much higher,” according to Holland.