Before and After: Calving of the Sulzberger Ice Shelf

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Satellite imagery from NASA and ESA show the Sulzberger Ice Shelf in Antarctica before and after being calved by a tsunami in March 2011.

Produced by the Space Telescope Science Institute’s Office of Public Outreach in collaboration with the NASA Earth Observatory.

·       Globe animation: STScI
·       Envisat images of icebergs: European Space Agency
·       Visualization of tsunami waves on March 11, 2011: NOAA

Written by Leah Ramsay
Designed by Dani Player and Leah Hustak
Editorial and design input from Margaret W. Carruthers, Timothy Rhue II, John Godfrey, and Claire Blome
Music courtesy of Associated Production Music

Two images compare an ice shelf. The first has a large area of white, and the next image has a diminished area of white.
Text, Before and After Sulzberger Ice Shelf.
A display of Earth from space. Rings highlight an area near Japan.
Text, March 11, 2011. As a magnitude 9.0 earthquake rocks Japan, half a world away, the Antarctic Sulzberger Ice Shelf maintains its calm watch over the Ross Sea.
Earthquake epicenter, Japan. Sulzberger Ice Shelf, Antarctica.
Overhead image of ice masses in the Ross Sea.
Text, The powerful earthquake triggers tsunami waves that travel 8,000 miles across the Pacific Ocean at a speed of nearly 450 miles per hour.
A world map with a colored scale. The Sulzberger Ice Shelf is circled at the bottom of the map. A burst of color on the map shoots out from an area near Japan.
Text, The waves are likely only a foot high when they arrive, but they are powerful enough to lift and flex the ice, breaking off huge icebergs.
An outer section of the ice shelf is highlighted. In a time lapse from March 11th, 2011 through March 16th, ice from the shelf breaks off and drifts into the sea.
Text, NASA and ESA satellites show that five days after the initial tsunami, two icebergs, each the size of Manhattan, had separated from the coast.
March 11, 2011 on left. March 16, 2011 on right.
Researchers had never before observed a tsunami having this effect.
We slowly zoom in on the ice shelf.
The satellite observations confirmed a tsunami's ability to alter the surface of the Earth, half a world away from its origin.