Antarctica Iceberg the Size of Chicago

Antarctica Iceberg the Size of Chicago
Cartoon by Horsey

Whether you believe it’s the weather or not is immaterial.  The fact is that an iceberg the size of Chicago has detached from the Pine Island glacier in Antarctica.  It is 278 square miles!  That’s a big chunk of ice.

Glaciers develop cracks periodically and icebergs form.  This process is called “calving” (cognate of calves being born).  Some researchers attribute the rapid loss of polar ice to warmer air others to warmer oceans but since the actual mechanisms involved in calving are yet to be discovered there is still controversy. Though the scientific community is not in total agreement as to the process of calving they do agree that the Pine Island glacier is shrinking at an accelerated rate.  It is the longest and fastest-changing on the West Antarctic Sheet, it last produced large icebergs in 2007 and 2008.  According to the University Of Chicago Department Of Geophysical Science it usually takes decades to produce calving events this large.  Something has changed.

NASA has been keeping a watchful eye on the Polar Regions for 20 years.  Satellite surveillance shows a 9% decrease in the Arctic ice caps over the past decade.  The story for the Greenland ice caps is more startling than a Chicago size chunk of ice. “The rate of ice loss from Greenland has increased almost five-fold since the mid-1990s”, says Erik Ivins, who coordinated for NASA on behalf of a joint project involving the European Space Agency ESA. The Greenland ice sheet is only about one tenth the size of Antarctica but today it is contributing twice as much ice to sea levels.

In case you have forgotten your high school geography (I had) Greenland is farther away from the North Pole than Antarctica is from the South Pole therefore Antarctica is colder.  There is also a difference between the western part of Antarctica and the eastern.  East Antarctica ice is mostly above sea level and is actually increasing.  This is a fact climate change skeptics like to spout but climatologist counter that this is consistent with global warming.  Evaporation from the warmer oceans means more snow fall.  To put it simply the West Antarctica sheet of which Pine Island’s latest iceberg was a component has more of its surface below the ocean.  Warmer ocean temperatures affect it from below and warmer ambient air from above. 

So what you might say?  Well the not so simple fact is the increasing sea levels affect everything. The Polar Regions are important indicators of the world’s climate, the canary in the mine so to speak. When the ice melts at an increasing rate, the rest of the world is affected. Global sea levels are rising; dark melt water pools absorb warmth from the sun which white ice would reflect back into space. Fresh water flows into the sea, changing ocean currents and the living conditions for marine organisms.  On the real estate speculation side, it might be a great time to buy “ocean front” property in the most northern parts of Mississippi.  Forget Louisiana, Florida, significant parts of Texas and North Carolina.  If you are a gluten free person you may not be too concerned about the loss of wheat in Kansas.  Wheat needs freezing weather for good yields and warmer summers mean drier soil conditions; bad for farmers.  So if you are gluten free and want to live on the ocean in northern Mississippi rising sea levels and global warming is great news!

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