Just how tall can a glacier get before it breaks?

Illustration for article titled Just how tall can a glacier get before it breaks?

On August 15th, this 200-foot-tall hunk of ice fell from the face of the gargantuan Hubbard Glacier in a process known as "calving," crashing into Yakutat Alaska's Disenchantment bay with an ear-splitting crack and a borderline unbelievable degree of force.


A 200-foot-tall segment of ice is nothing to sneeze at — they rarely come any bigger. That said, many scientists suspect that these epic slabs of ice could theoretically break off in larger chunks. Much larger chunks.

In a paper published in the latest issue of Proceedings of the Royal Society A, glacier dynamics researchers Jeremy Basis and Catherine Walker set out to calculate just how much larger a sheet of calving glacier might, in theory, become.

Here's the conclusion they arrived at:

The most conservative bound assumes that the ice is entirely intact with no crevasses. For a depth-averaged yield stress of 1 MPa, this predicts a maximum dry calving front height of approximately 220 m. Failure of the cliff is predicted to occur even in the unlikely event that no crevasses are present once the ice cliff exceeds this critical threshold.

220 meters! That's well over three times the height of the ice sheet pictured up top! Granted, that's the ceiling on a glacier assuming all conditions are perfect, but wow. Can you even imagine being in the vicinity of something that massive as it crashes into the water below it?

Read the full scientific paper via Proceedings of the Royal Society A

Top image by Scott M. Lieberman via AP




big as a cat.....