Thanks to images from the Copernicus Sentinel satellite missions, two large rifts in the glacier were spotted a year ago and scientists have been keeping a close eye on how quickly these cracks were growing. At more than 300 square kilometres (116 square miles), the iceberg was nearly as big as Atlanta and roughly the same size as Malta - although it very quickly fragmented.
In Antarctica, a new iceberg of the huge sizes broke off from the glacier pine island. Yesterday, those cracks finally cut a chunk of the glacier away (a process known as calving), releasing a giant jigsaw puzzle of fresh icebergs into the nearby Amundsen Sea. The iceberg fragmented as soon as it separated from the glacier. The largest "piglet" has been labeled "B-49" by the ESA, signifying the mass's importance in terms of future monitoring for researchers.
As a matter of fact, the Pine Island Glacier, along with its neighbor Thwaites Glacier are two major glaciers connecting the West Antarctic ice sheet to the ocean.
The Pine Island Glacier, along with its neighbor Thwaites glacier, connect the center of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet with the ocean, and together discharge significant quantities of ice into the ocean.
This phenomenon of calving isn't new for Pine Island Glacier, according to the ESA.
These changes have been mapped by ESA-built satellites since the 1990s, with calving events occurring in 1992, 1995, 2001, 2007, 2013, 2015, 2017, 2018, and now 2020.
According to NASA, the region around the two glaciers contains enough vulnerable ice to raise the ocean by 4 feet (1.2 meters).
"Since the early 1990s, the Pine Island Glacier's ice velocity has increased dramatically ..."
The satellite images come as a research base on the tip of Antarctica recorded the hottest temperature on record for the continent. Temperatures there have increased nearly 3C over the last 50 years, according to the World Meteorological Organisation.
On its own, the recent calving event is not entirely surprising or particularly threatening to global sea levels; calving is a normal part of life for ice formations with sections that float on the water, according to NASA's Earth Observatory. "We have been crying out for instruments like this", Drinkwater said.
Satellite data has shown that the glacier's flow out towards the sea is speeding up to a rate of more than 10 metres a day, it is thinning out and is retreating inland.
He said he hopes the images would continue to be an "eye in the sky" to monitor glacial change and improve public knowledge.