The fate of one small Greenland town depends on which direction the winds blow.

They're the only thing standing between the town of Innaarsuit and a 11-million-ton iceberg that floated dangerously close to shore.

Satellite images showed the iceberg approaching land on July 9, and by July 13, the town of 160 residents was partially evacuated and fishing boats were pulled to shore.

Distant shot of a large iceberg, Antarctica.
Distant shot of a large iceberg, Antarctica.
Photograph by Herbert G. Ponting, Nat Geo Image Collection

Greenland loses roughly 270 billion tons of ice every year as it cycles through seasonal warming and cooling periods. University of Buffalo glaciologist Kristin Poinar says icebergs are common to see in the summer, and the one floating near Innaarsuit is just one 10,000th of Greenland's annual ice loss.

Town council members told local outlet KNR that this isn't the first glacier to loom over their homes, but it's one of the largest.

If winds don't prevail in pushing the iceberg north, part of the floating chunk of ice could calve, or split in half. This could result in an instant tsunami that floods the town. It could damage homes and wipe out a coastal power plant that supplies energy to the region.

“If it breaks apart, they'll have just a few minutes to evacuate,” University of California at Irvine scientist Eric Rignot says. “When a piece of ice splashes into the ocean, it generates tremendous amounts of energy.”

When the iceberg might break apart, he says, is nearly impossible to predict.

Greenland's ice sheets contain some of the world's most rapidly melting glaciers. An April study published in Geophysical Research Letters linked human-induced climate warming with the region's rapid ice loss, but both Rignot and Pionar say there's not enough evidence to know if this particular iceberg can be blamed on climate change.

Just last month, a piece of ice the size of lower Manhattan calved from a Greenland glacier and fell into the sea.

The number of icebergs around Greenland are expected to increase in coming years.

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