With the Larsen C Iceberg, Stuff’s About to Get Real

What it means when a piece of ice the size of a state breaks free.


Hey, did you see about that big iceberg? I read on Facebook that something the size of Delaware just broke away from Antarctica. It’s about 2,000 square miles and a quarter mile thick. It’s like the biggest iceberg ever seen, or close to it. I guess heads-up if you’re yachting down under.

But otherwise, so what, right? I mean, ice bergs cut loose from glaciers all the time. And by now the news on glaciers is pretty played. We know they’re going the way of the passenger pigeon. Or the rhino. Or of course the favorite of enviro-mental protesters: the polar bear.

Well anyway, supposedly the “so what” has to do with what happens next. And especially what happens after that.

I guess until a few days ago the iceberg was part of an “ice shelf,” a part of a glacier that floats in the ocean. Apparently it’s like a dam that holds back other glaciers. It’s pretty cool, actually, because like a dam it’s fixed to bedrock on both sides. Picture the Hoover or Grand Coulee. But instead of a little river, it’s holding back a wall of ice that would reach most the way from Seattle to Portland. Or Philly to DC.

Well the thing is, the ice that just broke off was attached to both anchor points. (Yeah, it’s over 100 miles across.) So now there’s nothing to stop the rest of the ice shelf from just like cracking into a million pieces. That’s what scientists are saying, anyway. They say two nearby ice shelfs did the same thing since like the late 1990s. It’s all on this NASA website I saw. Or just Google “Larson C,” which for whatever reason is the name of the ice shelf.

Of course like a lot of this stuff, no one knows how long it’ll take the ice shelf to break up. But they say one of the other ones took just a month to almost totally disintegrate. And that’s just crazy because the thing had been around for like thousands of years.

Either way, it’s after the ice shelf breaks up that the real shit goes down. Because once it’s gone, then all these big glaciers on the land, which have been held back until now, are going to pour into the ocean.

I didn’t realize this, but that’s what’s been happening in Alaska and Greenland. It’s not just that the glaciers are melting because it’s getting so hot. But as they melt back they also come off these anchor points and then just fall apart real fast. Turns out at that point it hardly matters how hot it gets, because the ice has nothing to hold onto, so it just runs into the ocean.

And of course the big deal about all this is that if Antarctica’s glaciers start doing what’s happening in Alaska and Greenland, there’s going to be a whole lot more water headed into the ocean. In fact, I saw this other thing (again on Facebook, because that’s all I ever really bother with anymore for news), that the ocean’s been rising twice as fast lately. I guess it’s not just from the glaciers, but also the water itself is expanding from all the warming.

And that’s the scary part because there’s really not a lot of places for more ocean to go. Except for maybe places like New Orleans or Los Angeles. Or where there’s even a lot more people, like India or Bangladesh. Can you imagine what it’d be like if those places had to start moving millions of people? Donald Trump thinks he wants a wall now, right?

But actually that’s no joke. A friend of mine just spent like six months down in Honduras, adopting a baby. She told me that because of all the changing weather—with droughts and forest fires and these big floods—people have been ditching the farmlands for the cities, and that the cities are now crowded and crazy-violent. Kids with guns and all that. So whole families and even solo kids are just running away, and of course they end up at our border with Mexico. Hence Trump’s wall.

But of course it’s not just Central America or Bangladesh or whatever. There’s Native folks in Alaska who are losing their homes and roads because the sea ice melted and the ocean’s taking over their whole villages. And there’s this new flooding during high tides in Miami, with people posting YouTube videos of fish swimming in the streets. And I remember they said all that water pouring into New York subway stations during Hurricane Sandy was because the ocean’s getting higher.

So I guess people are already on the move. But if those NASA scientists are right about what’s starting down in Antarctica, it’s going to get a whole lot worse. They say some of its going to happen no matter what. But how bad it gets just depends on how much coal and oil we keep burning.

Anyhow, dude, can you hold my beer? I gotta see what’s new on Facebook.

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Showing 7 comments
  • John
    Reply

    It was floating so minimal change in water levels

  • DanO
    Reply

    Glad this was listed as an opinion piece as there was little to no science in it.

    I saw this on the news this morning and scientists who have been studying this glacier stated this was a natural event which had nothing to do with our effect human impact on the planet or global warming. Yet within hours we have this piece on potential flooding of coastal regions….

  • John Tallent
    Reply

    The “editorial” is a bit too flippant for this 70 yea old fart but I am concerned though I do live on a mountain in New Mexico at over 8,000 feet at the present. Though I have kids and grandsons in the Houston area, Austin, Texas, Dallas, and Monroe, LA where water eats things up that old game the kids played.
    Do not care so much for me but them and their extended families. True, the article could have had more “science” documented PLUS I would not consider Facebook to an “authoritative” source regardless of who posted it.
    JT

  • ClimbStuff
    Reply

    I agree with DanO above, but want to emphasize why this pile of literal garbage should not be published. This is exactly the issue plaguing the validity of scientists. Yes, there are concerns that this shelf with holding back glaciers on Antartica, and yes, this could possibly lead to accelerated melting of these glaciers due to flowing into the ocean. However, quite frankly, that is at best a hypothesis with marginal backing. Yes, it is a concern that should and will be evaluated as scientists move forward. Furthermore, It is been clearly stated that there is no substantiated link to climate change (not to say it is not linked to climate change, but scientists to this point do not have any evidence that it is).

    Two quotes from the research team following this event (via CNN)

    ‘”This event does not directly affect anyone, and repercussions, if there are any, will not be felt for years. However, it is a spectacular and enormous geographical event which has changed the landscape.” …Professor Adrian Luckman of Swansea University, lead investigator of the MIDAS project said in a statement.’

    “The team of researchers have not yet found “any link to human-induced climate change,” Martin O’Leary, a Swansea University glaciologist and member of the MIDAS project team” From CNN’s article on it.

    Here is the true issue with this “opinion” piece. The alarmist nature of this article sounds like Donald Trump sounding off on CNN as ‘fake media’ as much as it sounds like antivaxers claiming vaccines cause autism. By asserting falsities as fact you create immense confusion and promote the idea that scientists don’t agree on an issue or you create the idea that scientists keep backtracking on the severity of climate change (or any other issue today). Articles like this create distrust in science and does much more harm than good. You can properly educate the public and alert them of the possible catastrophe properly or you risk harming the word of all scientists.

  • Jeff Fujita
    Reply

    Doomsday scenarios and confusing correlation with causation does more harm to science than good. Imminent threats of the apocalypse should be left to religious zealots.

  • Micha
    Reply

    Bit of an irresponsible editorial AJ. There are plenty of actual climate scientists who could have provided comment, rather than some armchair expert (sorry!). This kind of sensationalism damages science when it gets discredited – not cool!

  • RC
    Reply

    Sounded as if it was written by a teenager. So much incredulity at what has been known for some time… Too much use of the word ‘Like’ (and similar fillers). I realize whoever wrote this is earnest and dedicated, and possibly trying to find their ‘voice’, but the teenage vernacular resonates so intensely in this article a larger audience will not likely take this seriously. Sorry Author- keep it up, your intentions are kind, and you will get there. 🙂

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