Scientists: March 11 tsunami produced Antarctic icebergs
Top image shows the Sulzberger Ice Shelf on March 12 and the bottom on March 16 after the tsunami broke off icebergs.
August 9th, 2011
09:40 AM ET

Scientists: March 11 tsunami produced Antarctic icebergs

The tsunami spawned from the March 11 earthquake off eastern Japan broke up parts of an Antarctic ice shelf that hadn't moved in 46 years, scientists say.

Though the tsunami waves were only about a foot high when they reached Antarctica, their consistency was enough to crack the 260-foot-thick ice and split off icebergs with combined surface areas more than twice the size of Manhattan from the Sulzberger Ice Shelf, the scientists report in a NASA statement.

It was the first time scientists have been able to tie icebergs directly to a tsunami, according to NASA.

The tsunami waves traveled 8,000 miles and took 18 hours to reach the ice shelf, the scientists said, giving them time to validate theories on how an earthquake can affect geography a hemisphere away.

"In the past we've had calving events where we've looked for the source. It's a reverse scenario - we see a calving and we go looking for a source," Kelly Brunt, a cryosphere specialist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland, said in the NASA statement. "We knew right away this was one of the biggest events in recent history - we knew there would be enough swell. And this time we had a source."

Emile Okal at Northwestern University and Douglas MacAyeal at the University of Chicago collaborated in the study.

"This is an example not only of the way in which events are connected across great ranges of oceanic distance, but also how events in one kind of Earth system, i.e., the plate tectonic system, can connect with another kind of seemingly unrelated event: the calving of icebergs from Antarctica's ice sheet," MacAyeal said in the NASA statement.

Watch NASA video on the research

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Filed under: 2011 tsunami • Antarctica • Earthquake • Japan • NASA • Natural Disasters • Tsunami • World
soundoff (208 Responses)
  1. Tha Chikin

    I love how everyone is blaming "global warming" for earthquakes and tsunamis... CLASSIC!

    If you guys would pick up a book every now and again, you would learn that tectonics is totally un-related. Then again, an argument about it with anyone that thinks this is like having an intellectual conversation with a monkey. You may now go back to your regularly scheduled throwing of the poo.

    August 9, 2011 at 4:43 pm | Report abuse |
    • Gas

      My farts are causing Global Warming 😀

      August 9, 2011 at 5:08 pm | Report abuse |
    • ocjackel

      It's Bush's fault.

      August 9, 2011 at 6:18 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Tha Chikin

    Actually, scratch that... emmissions from volcanoes do attribute to global warming... we are all going to die!!!!

    August 9, 2011 at 4:45 pm | Report abuse |
    • ocjackel

      Can't we ban volcanoes?

      August 9, 2011 at 6:19 pm | Report abuse |
  3. jaydeebee56

    ""In the past we've had calving events where we've looked for the source. It's a reverse scenario – we see a calving and we go looking for a source," Kelly Brunt, a cryosphere specialist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland"

    Gee, Kelly, isn't that the same thing?

    Kelly is a "cryosphere specialist". Why can't she write or speak intelligibly? Maybe she meant to say that the "reverse event" is a source, after which they look for the consequences (calving event). I'm only guessing........

    August 9, 2011 at 4:46 pm | Report abuse |
    • bltzkrig

      It is perfectly intelligible to me (and I'm not even a cryosphere specialist). What Kelly means is that in the past, they have followed a reverse scenario where they first observe the calving of ice and then look for what may have caused it (an event in the recent PAST). This time, they knew the Tsunami was a major event, and they had the time and the luxury of tracking it. They observed the calving after the tsunami, which allowed them to link the cause and effect more directly.

      August 9, 2011 at 5:47 pm | Report abuse |
  4. king troll

    ok the troll references have gone far enough. As king of the Trolls i declare it be known as the "T" word.

    August 9, 2011 at 5:04 pm | Report abuse |
    • Steve

      Sorry, that's already taken for the teabaggers.

      August 9, 2011 at 6:33 pm | Report abuse |
  5. BobZemko

    Maybe global warming caused the earthquake : )

    August 9, 2011 at 5:07 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Johnny Cage

    So, how bad would it be if an earthquake happened under the Antarctic snow caps?

    August 9, 2011 at 5:24 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Frank

    This was a result of Bush and his oil business cronies. Sorry, thats just the only excuse I have for everything.

    August 9, 2011 at 5:42 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Terry

    And here I thought it was all about Global Warming.

    August 9, 2011 at 6:01 pm | Report abuse |
    • Cadecker

      global warming caused the earthquake lol

      August 9, 2011 at 6:15 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Cadecker

    come on ... Chuck Norris did that

    August 9, 2011 at 6:15 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Truth

    I heard that HARRP technology caused the earthquake and tsunami.

    August 9, 2011 at 6:23 pm | Report abuse |
  11. JOSE

    Global cooling!

    August 9, 2011 at 6:29 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jacob

      Global drooling!

      August 9, 2011 at 6:54 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Joe

    DOH! Now that Homer Simpson has gotten his comment out of the way....it's pretty amazing that we witness in our lifetime such catastrophic events.

    August 9, 2011 at 6:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • Tim

      grateful I didn't have to experience something so "amazing" firsthand.

      August 9, 2011 at 7:44 pm | Report abuse |
  13. m

    Love this article!

    August 9, 2011 at 7:04 pm | Report abuse |
  14. m

    Great story!

    August 9, 2011 at 7:04 pm | Report abuse |
  15. alan

    poop caused it

    August 9, 2011 at 7:22 pm | Report abuse |
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