On March 11, 2011, a magnitude 9.0 earthquake rumbled the northeast coast of Japan at a depth of 15.2 miles. The resulting tsunami destroyed everything nearby, but most people thought it never affected other areas. Until now.
Dr. Kelly Brunt, a cryosphere scientist at Goddard Space Flight Center, and other researchers have discovered evidence that shows the Tohoku Tsunami shattered Antarctica’s coast, creating multiple icebergs. One of them was the size of Manhattan.
The earthquake generated a sea swell that ran through all of the Pacific basin. Within only 18 hours, a series of waves from the tsunami started to hammer the coast of Antarctica relentlessly. Finally, the force of the waves destroyed part of the gigantic ice sheets on the Sulzberger Ice Shelf—located 8,000 miles (13,600 kilometers) away from the epicenter. The shattering of the ice created large icebergs, one of it a whooping fifty square miles.
While scientists have speculated that seismic activity could be one of the explanations to some of the icebergs, this is the first time that direct proof has been discovered using NASA and ESA’s satellites. According to Emile Okal at Northwestern University, this may explain other episodes:
In September 1868, Chilean naval officers reported an unseasonal presence of large icebergs in the southernmost Pacific Ocean, and it was later speculated that they may have calved during the great Africa earthquake and tsunami a month earlier. We know now that this is a most probable scenario.
Dr. Douglas MacAyeal of the University of Chicago’s Geophysical Sciences department (and also a member of Dr. Brunt’s research group) said that “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 […] the plate tectonic system, can connect with another kind of seemingly unrelated event: the calving of icebergs from Antarctica’s ice sheet.”