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How Fast Can Glaciers Collapse?

When Glaciers Transform Into Deadly 150-mph Avalanches

After happening only once in the 100-year record, catastrophic glacial collapse occurred twice in Tibet this summer.glacier-collapse

It took less than seven minutes.

On the morning of September 20, 2002, the Kolka Glacier sat in a gently sloping valley on the Russia-Georgia border. The glacier had a history of unusually fast surges, which—for the ponderous ice flows that cover 10 percent of Earth’s land surface—meant it sometimes lurched several dozen feet forward in one day. When an American scientific satellite, Landsat 7, passed overhead and imaged it around noon, Kolka seemed unsteady but unremarkable.

At 8:08 p.m., it became remarkable. More than three-quarters of the entire glacier, a goliath chunk of ice more than 1.5 miles long, broke off from the rest of the formation and detached from the soil below. It thundered down the side of the Kolka valley, 130 million cubic meters of ice and rock, accelerating as its own meltwater slicked its path. Within minutes it was traveling 150 miles per hour.   Read more...