The Anatomy Of A Discovery - Petermann Glacier Ice Tongue Calving 2010
    By Patrick Lockerby | August 8th 2010 05:15 PM | 27 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
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    Retired engineer, 60+ years young. Computer builder and programmer. Linguist specialising in language acquisition and computational linguistics....

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    The Anatomy Of A Discovery

    Petermann Glacier Ice Tongue Calving 2010 is a science site.

    Now, I could blabber and bluster about how I once advised Margaret Thatcher1.  Which I did.  In a private letter which was answered by the Iron Lady herself in her own handwriting.  I had further communication with her via my local M.P. - the politician, not the policeman!  All of which has nothing whatsoever to do with my reputation in the science community.  Nor should it. is a science site.

    It is exactly because this is a science site that I want you to agree to do one thing for me:

    Don't believe a word I say based solely or mainly on what you may think of my skills.

    One of the major triumphs of the modern scientific method is its power of prediction.  A theory is formulated.  It is not just any old theory that someone came up with in a bar: it is a suggested chain of causality based on observations of events.  Given the supposition that C causes E then we need only observe C to see if it is the most probable known cause of E, or we observe E to see if it was most probably caused by C.

    But science demands independent verification.  The person who first suggests a theory is not trusted to be the only person to supply proof of the theory.  Other, entirely independent witnesses are required to corroborate the validity of the theory in the court of science. is a science site.

    But science demands independent verification.  So, if I post up anything at all and claim that it came from another web page or site: don't just believe me when I tell you where it came from - follow the link.

    Please do follow the links in the text below.

    I have written a great deal about global warming and climate change and have made several successful predictions - most notably the recent calving of an ice island at the outlet of the Petermann Glacier's floating ice tongue.  As the first person to publicly report that event, and as the only person - to the best of my knowledge - to predict it's scale, I feel entitled to be given due credit as a person who may know a thing or two about the things of which he speaks.

    My article Arctic Newsflash! Petermann Ice Tongue Loses Huge Chunk was published on August 5th 2010 09:43 AM.

    A news release from the University of Dellaware published 1:40 p.m., Aug. 6, 2010 states:
    Trudy Wohlleben of the Canadian Ice Service discovered the ice island within hours after NASA's MODIS-Aqua satellite took the data on Aug. 5, at 8:40 UTC (4:40 EDT), Muenchow said. These raw data were downloaded, processed, and analyzed at the University of Delaware in near real-time as part of Muenchow's NSF research.

    As a result of that news release, the world's media and bloggers are reporting that Trudy Wohlleben discovered the ice island.  I don't dispute this.  I simply claim to have done so first.  I certainly published first.  I also predicted this event.

    Judging by previous behavior and by the forces which will act on a more mobile ice tongue, I predict some dramatic calving this year.  The image below shows red lines where I expect the tongue to calve.
    July 17th 2010 07:26 PM
    Arctic Ice July 2010 - Update #3

    Image originally posted in Arctic Ice July 2010 - Update #3

    If you check the area bounded by the continuous red line between the snow caps either side of the glacier tongue you will find it is a very close match to the actual size and shape of the ice island.  It is about 250km2 in round figures.

    The Petermann ice tongue looks primed to lose a few fairly large floes any day now.  There are a lot of cracks showing at 250m resolution.  That means the cracks must be at least 250m wide.
    It looks like a few small bergs- about 2 or 3 km across - are going to break off before the main tongue breaks up.  The bigger fracture back at the tributary glaciers needs a lot of back-pressure relieved before it can expand much.
    The Petermann ice tongue tip has held almost the same shape since winter 2008.  It has had nearly two years in which to thin and crack.  I would be very surprised if it does not retreat substantially this year.
    July 22nd 2010 03:32 PM
    Arctic Ice July - Update #4
    The first hint I had of a spectacular calving was when I saw this image:

    cropped from original:

    Even at that resolution the glacier tongue tip looked decidedly different from its previous 2010 appearance.

    When I went to the 250m resolution image I was astonished.  Not astonished that the ice island had calved, but astonished that it had done so as a whole piece.  I had expected fragmentation during the course of a few days.  Although I predicted the amount - about 250km2 - fairly accurately, I had not predicted that it would break off all at once.

    cropped from original:

    The image is spoiled somewhat by image processing artifacts and cloud, so I started writing this up while waiting for further images.  The next image was also spoiled somewhat by shadows in an area of interest.

    I checked via a Google search to see if there was any mention of this event anywhere on the web.  There was nothing.  Nothing new on "Petermann glacier", "Petermann ice tongue", "Petermann calving" etc.  This search for prior publications is an essential part of scientific research.  Had I found anything published on the August 2010 separation of a Petermann Glacier ice island I could not claim priority - I would, however, be confirming the validity of the prior observation.

    The next image was good enough for my article, so rather than wait for an even better image and risk losing priority I used it and published my article.  It is just as well that I did: the fourth image was not so clear.

    Images cropped and rotated by me August 05 2010.

    The MODIS Rapidfire system takes the raw data from the aqua satellite and processes it automatically into a preliminary image.  The image is then posted for public use very soon after.

    The MODIS Rapid Response System was developed to provide daily satellite images of the Earth's landmasses in near real time. True-color, photo-like imagery and false-color imagery are available within a few hours of being collected, ...

    I sent out some emails to publicize the news of the new ice island with links to my article.  I have had no responses so far.

    It is only natural that I should be the tiniest bit annoyed2 not to be given credit for predicting this event and credit for being first to publish when it happened.

    A further cause of annoyance is that the media - and particularly the anti-science brigade - are quoting the BBC:

    Prof Muenchow ... said it was not clear if the event was due to global warming.

    If they had been quoting me, then the anti-science brigade3 would not be able to quote the BBC article as 'proof' that this unprecedented ice loss has nothing to do with global warming.  It has one heck of a lot to do with global warming.

    And that 'not since 1962' is being picked up as 'proof' of natural cycles.  Firstly, the 1962 event  was an ice shelf: the loss of 250km2 of any single Arctic ice tongue in one year is without precedent.  Secondly, the ice shelves that have disappeared were about 3,000 years old.  Their loss is directly attributable to Arctic warming.

    I continue to monitor the MODIS Rapidfire images for more activity in Petermann Fjord.  The new ice island hasn't moved far yet.  It is quite likely that it is grounded.  If it does manage to wriggle its way into the Nares Strait it will be a most welcome event for those of us who are concerned about the global impacts of Arctic ice loss.  Blocking the Nares Strait will prevent ice loss from the Lincoln Sea: an area where ice compaction can be enhanced by a blocked strait.

    Location of ice island at 08/08/10 14:05 UTC

    Without a cloud free image or radar image it is impossible to tell if there has been any further calving.  I expect to see at least a small amount at the new calving front.

    There is another large area primed to give way, but without a clear image to study I can make no new prediction as to when it will detach.


    Previous article:
    The Anatomy Of A Discovery - Petermann Glacier Ice Tongue Calving 2010

    Important updates:
    Petermann Glacier Calving 2010 - Update
    Petermann Ice Island Revisited

    Related reading:

    More articles on the Arctic and related subjects: The ChatterBox Arctic Index

    [1] - Margaret Thatcher, former Prime Minister, was an ardent advocate of taking steps to deal with the climate change problem.  This is clear from her many speeches on the topic.
    The problem with advisers is all the more striking in that MT made great efforts to draw on the opinions of people outside the official machine and her own staff. In fact there are files of correspondence with these irregulars. But what these efforts finally show perhaps is that her deepest instinct was that she could really only trust herself ...
    So let me confirm unequivocally tonight that the United Kingdom will meet the commitment which it has solemnly accepted to reduce acid emissions and we shall do so by embarking on a major programme of investment to protect the environment, not relying on a single method alone but combining desulphurisation equipment, new gas-fired plant and other means such as the use of low-sulphur coal. Not only will our investment meet our commitment to the Large Plants Directive in full—it will also make a major contribution to reducing carbon dioxide output.

    1990 Mar 22
    Margaret Thatcher
    Speech to Royal Society Dinner (marking end of Surface Water Acidification Programme)

    Hmmm.  I seem to recall someone advising the Iron Lady that there is no need to reduce CO2 emissions because all this 'CO2 causes global warming' nonsense is, er - nonsense.

    [2] - here to view Hank Campbell's profile.">Hank Campbell has every right to be a bit more than annoyed.  Most of the web traffic generated by this news should be coming to this site and helping to pay for it.  He should, by now, be jumping up and down and cursing me for frying the servers.  :-)

    [3] - If an anti-science champion gets pneumonia, does he - rarely she - compare it to the flu he had a few years before, and put it down to natural variability?  Or does he demand the attention of a doctor?



    After I published this article I remembered some more details which I published in a comment addressed to
    Red arrow points to a chunk which appears to be in process of separating.  There appears to be a new fissure across the two older fissures at this point.

    Magenta arrow points to an area which seems smaller and more fractured than last year.

    Blue arrows point to what appear to be recent fissures.  The uppermost
    one in the image may be an artifact.  I'm waiting for a fresh cloud-free image to compare with.

    Green arrows point to where I would expect to see fissures developing soon. 

    As it turned out, there was a lot of cloud cover, so I didn't find any more interesting images.

    Until August 05, that is!
    I immediately searched Google and checked other news reporting services soon after you announced the Petermann calving...complete silence on anything new about the Petermann Glacier. I understand your frustration for not being given credit when credit is due.
    In the early 1960s when I was in the fourth grade in science we were looking at pictures of layered flood deposits. I live on Missoula Flood deposits in western Washington that are about 200' deep with another layer about 100' deep on top of that from a more local ice dam collapse. On the property my parents used to own there is a beautiful cross-section of these deposits about 80' high defining about 10 or 12 of the Missoula floods approximately 150'-220' above sea level and about 200' above the level of the Columbia and Lewis rivers. I clearly remember asking "What flood caused these?," at that time. I was laughed at and told in no uncertain terms that no flood could get that high. I still knew that I was right, because the definitions are so obvious. I remember arguing my point to no avail. In 1967 I remember reading the first news about the Missoula Floods which confirmed what I already knew about the size of the floods and that there were a number of them. I talked to a farmer from Eastern Washington State just this June who had a picture of at least 100 Missoula Flood layers in a creek cut on his farm. Even though I got no credit I at least feel vindicated that I was right and that I was right first or nearly first even though I believe there is some earlier published related material than that, but not very much. I think having lived with this knowledge from such an early age prejudices me to expect similar events happening in Greenland maybe sooner than later.

    Vaughn A., many thanks for your supportive comments.  Just keep clear of those valleys in summer, d'you hear now?  I'd hate to lose 10% of my readers. ;-)

    These events will get to be more frequent and less predictable.  Which is precisely why I have spent a lot of time over the last three years reading up on what is know and what is unknown about glaciers.  I am trying to formulate a method for predicting substantial calving accurately.

    Scientists with Greenpeace last year predicted a 100km2 loss of the Petermann Glacier ice tongue "any day soon".  That is why they were there with the Greenpeace ship: they were hoping to film the calving in real time.

    I do not - indeed cannot - claim to have a method for predicting calving events.  Much more research is needed, plus independent corroboration.  I have more predictions to publicly test on this site before I can claim to have contributed to our knowledge of glacier dynamics.

    Considering how much shipping there is these days around Greenland and Labrador, and how many tourists go in small craft close to these calving fronts, or even stand on them, the ability to forecast calving with reasonable precision could save lives.

    Meanwhile, back at the newsdesk: CNN nearly gets the story straight:

    Satellite data from NASA's MODIS-Aqua satellite revealed the initial rupture which was confirmed within hours by Trudy Wohlleben of the Canadian Ice Service ...

    'Confirmed' is a lot better than 'discovered'.  But there is still no: "The Petermann ice island was first reported by Patrick Lockerby on", or words to that effect.

    At the moment, traffic going to sites which credit Trudy Wohllenberg with the discovery get more hits than sites which mention my name in the ratio 3.6:1

    Many sites make no mention of either of us.

    The search combination "+predicted +Lockerby" got only 228 hits as of today.

    There are 'interesting' spikes in web traffic related to the ice island1Hank Campbell should be getting a just proportion of that traffic to help fund this site2.

    It doesn't help that the Google search engine doesn't know the difference between Lockerby the group of humans with a shared family name and Lockerbie the home of my ancestors and a place which was once famous only for its association with romantic teen weddings.

    I swore when the tragedy happened that I would do my best to make the name Lockerbie / Lockerby a name for any member of the globally extended family to be proud of.  Which, of course, demands  that I place myself under a strict obligation to maintain the highest standards of ethics that any mere mortal can muster.

    [1] - strictly speaking it's a giant tabular iceberg.  An ice island is a lot less thick and didn't pop out of a glacier.  The media, bless 'em,  tends to use the term 'ice island' indiscriminately, but let's not get carried away.  At least they didn't call it an ice continent !  ;-)

    [2] - and pay for his three SUVs, two private jets and the partridge in a pear tree.
    Important update:

    I am pleased to report that Trudy Wohlleben did not claim credit for this discovery and does not know who put her name forward as discoverer.

    I never feel at liberty to divulge the content of private emails.  However, I can state that Humfrey Melling at DFO and Luc Desjardins at CIS also predicted the calving quite accurately as to timing.  I have no other information about that.  Others were also 'watching and waiting', so priority turns out to have been very much the luck of the draw.


    Note to self:  to be 'in with a chance', write program to grab raw MODIS data and make my own b****y images.  ;-)
    It's not a bad idea, they are using the same data to create pretty pics - I always use ScienceCodex as the repository I check and over there just now the earliest story I could see referencing a  Petermann break at all was March 2010 - but it was years away. He got the size right, though.   Otherwise they were all after you.
    I too was surprised by the absence of a mention of your early report. I recently have had the same response to my noting that huge pieces of landfast ice are disintegrating off the north east side of
    Greenland. Either this is a common occurence or nobody has looked at the modis frames of north east Greenland for the last week.

    When does the media get anything right? Our local rag is reporting the Russian heatwave as the worst in decades.

    Your post was fairly clearly the first. Links to your post came quickly after, then came everybody else.

    It was a big scoop, you did a great job and your posts are very informative. Keep up the good work even if you do not get all the credit you deserve.

    Patrick, did you see that you are included in the BBC article now?

    BBC is careful with including links to outside websites, but it happens (Tommaso Dorigo here at Science2.0 got a lot of heat because of some Higgs rumors maybe because of the direct link provided by the BBC :-)). I think they most definitely should have provided a link to your posts as you clearly have a serious coverage of the arctic ice development as a whole.

    Very cool that you talked about a possible calving so close before it actually happened. :-)
    Bente Lilja Bye is the author of Lilja - A bouquet of stories about the Earth
    Bente:  the BBC added that because I insisted on at least some credit, considering how much of the world takes BBC reports as truth.  Trudy Wohlleben never claimed to have discovered the ice island.  I have a new article on credits in hand and will be crediting others who predicted and/or observed the event.

    I think they most definitely should have provided a link to your posts
    as you clearly have a serious coverage of the arctic ice development as a
    I agree. 
    Caveat: I may be just a little bit biased.  ;-)

    Off topic, blatant plug:
    Tears For Pakistan
    Do they link to anyone?   I think including his name is enough, and the site is a bonus.    I am more alarmed at ...

    Still no Wales comparison???  What has happened to the Brits?!?

    Yes, Hank, BBC provides, on occasion, a couple of external links.

    I'm fine with internal linking - it is understandable, but NOT including any external links at all annoys me. I always like to go to the sources. It compliments the story and gives it credit. If a site does not include any external sources I am skeptic - and annoyed. Did I mention that it annoys me when writers skip the external links? Clickable links. :-)

    In the case of this summers Higgs rumors, Tommaso's blog here was provided as external link at the end of the BBC story.

    LOL at your Wales alarm. :-)
    Bente Lilja Bye is the author of Lilja - A bouquet of stories about the Earth
    True story; the BBC tried to create blogs/user generated content a while back.  Who did they write for advice?  Me.   I gave it to them, of course and was happy to do so.   I can tell anyone how to make a delicious pie crust also but millions of people still could not do it well.  There are no recipes, really.

    I am not surprised they linked to Tommaso but not Patrick - they were trying to criticize a non-big-media writer in the former case whereas the latter beat them to the punch writing in his pajamas.
    So you were teaching BBC to bake a pie, huh? :-)

    Seriously, I think that this site/community works because it is a perfect mix of casual/humor and serious discussions. You learn and play at the same time.

    I also believe you, Hank, are playing a key role as contributor both in your own blog and comments. Just like the rest of us - only way more active. :-)

    BBC - and NYT (Dot Earth in my case) demand too much of the community. From time to time I do offer my comments to those places, but it is not dynamic enough and I have to be so darn serious it feels unnatural. For me. :-)
    Bente Lilja Bye is the author of Lilja - A bouquet of stories about the Earth
    ... the latter beat them to the punch writing in his pajamas.
    As a matter of ordinary ethics, and in the interests of scientific accuracy, I feel obliged to point out that we are having a heat wave here.  Accordingly, I was sitting at my desk wearing only my underpants.

    Even my computer was complaining about the heat!

    Is it just me or does the land ice on the west coast of Greenland look awful grey, especially near 66N -50W. Ash from the fires?

    Read the poem on your latest post, didn't know what to say. What have we done?

    Tony: satellite images have shown the smoke from fires in Russia, Alaska and Canada across almost the entire Arctic.  So yes, there is likely to be a fair amount of smoke particles on the ice and snow everywhere.  However, when you look at greenland as a whole, you see white ice in the middle with bands of blue and grey at the edges.  The grey is mostly the rippled silver-grey of ice where snow has melted, and the blue is meltwater pools and streams.
    That means the melt actually goes quite a way in. Scary, perhaps it is just as well I do not know hot to measure on Aqua pictures.


    Tony:  it's to do with the slope.  From the snow line downwards the air temperature tends to rise.  On slopes, meltwater tends to run down, on flatter areas it tend to accumulate in pools which can work their way down through the ice and drain as moulins. In low resolution images the bright blue pools tend to be merged with the ice and show as a band of pale blue.

    You can often see after clouds have passed over where fresh snow has been deposited.  For a good example look at Flade Isblink in North East Greenland.  It gets a lot of snow, even in summer.  However, in summer the fresh snow soon vanishes again.
    Patrick -
    Up making polar bears sing tonight, came across this on the the old machine, my favorite glacier picture. Can't remember where I got this one , but never the less it's the best one I ever saw.
    Foot Glacier

    Colorado Bob:  great stuff!  The glacier outflow picture is exactly what I was looking for to illustrate an article.  Is it your copyright?  Which glacier?  My guess is somewhere in the Canadian Archipelago.

    If you register here - you don't have to write articles - you can embed pictures in your comments.  You may assume that any pics you put in comments to my articles will be received with gratitude.

    Glacier marine outlet.

    This is the classic shape of glacier ice flowing directly into the sea.

    Arctic warming proceeds faster than the average of global warming.  The taiga and tundra fires, accelerated ice sheet and sea ice mass loss are collectively of far greater concern that the Deepwater Horizon wild well.

    Patrick -
    Not my copyright , can't recall where I grabbed that , it was two years ago . It says "Foot" on the jpeg.

    Colorado Bob:  thanks.  I like the image so much that I'll find any excuse to include it in an article.  :-)

    The image went viral, so it took me some time to find the original:

    The image is copyright Alfred Wegener Institute:
    The third or fourth page of links on Google, but this is the best site I've found explaining this event. Bookmarking, and I'll be using this link when discussing online.

    Excellent work, Patrick.

    Thank you for your kind words, anonymous.
    Colorado Bob
    The Elephant Foot !!!!
    Colorado Bob
     Fairhaven, MA: Dead Fish Wash Ashore In Thousands, Lack Of Oxygen In Warm Waters To Blame (VIDEO)