Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Greenland Ilulissat Glacier Break-Up — Largest Calving Event Ever Recorded


[Click to enlarge.]

by Gaius Publius

More and more people — as opposed to billionaire-driven corporations — are becoming aware that we are entering a new age, a new "normal," with respect to earth's climate and its conditions. We see this especially in the rapid approach of tipping points, irreversible changes, many quite visible.

Of those tipping points, none is more visible, more immediately "gettable," than the rapid disappearance of standing ice everywhere on the planet. The image above, for example, shows IPCC calculations via many models regarding the loss of ice in the Arctic Ocean. The red line shows actual arctic ice loss through 2012, the most recent low-point. It's melting before our eyes. (You should notice, by the way, that the Y-axis is an absolute scale. The bottom is zero arctic ice, and we're more than halfway there from the high of the 1950s.)

So the first takeaway is — People are getting it, in greater and greater numbers. The day when people panic — and insist government act in their interest for a change — is fast approaching. That day is either a day of great opportunity (for us) or great chaos and disorder (for the world), or both (god help us; and that's not snark). If it's an opportunity, we need to prepare by knowing what to advise in one simple, accurate recommendation.

Collapses Often Happen Suddenly

The second takeaway is a look at the speed. As Jared Diamond and others have documented frequently, state-changes and collapses often happen quickly. Below, for example, is a chart of the 1929 stock market collapse. Note that the steep initial crash occurred in about six weeks:

[Click to enlarge.]

At that point the economic world entered a new age, a new "normal," one that lasted a generation. To us a generation is a long time, but not in the world of geology. In the world of standing planetary ice, a "generation" is on the order of more than 35 million years, the most recent point at which our earth went from ice-free to "permanent" standing glaciers. Here's what that looks like through that last 540 million years, the point at which life exploded in abundance on the planet:

[Click to enlarge.]
Variations in atmospheric CO2 concentrations and oxygen concentrations correlated with ice ages (blue histograms, extending according to geographic latitude). Note the sharp decline in atmospheric CO2 during ice ages (source).

All you care about in the chart above are the dark blue bars at the bottom, which show periods of extended permanent glaciers. Around 300 million years ago, we had a long period of standing ice. That ended around 260 million years ago, and the planet remained free of standing ice until 35 million years ago, when glaciers started forming again in the Antarctic, and later the Arctic. Except for a "brief" period of deglaciation (melting) and reglaciating that lasted about ten million years, more or less, the earth has stabilized — gone from ice ages that covered most of Europe, for example, to periods like today, with standing ice concentrated at the poles and high altitudes.

Until now. Now we're changing back to a long period of no standing ice. The planet is "melting," and at a rate that's visible on a human scale. As you'll see in the short video below, one huge glacier in Greenland retreated 8 miles in 100 years. Then it retreated 9 miles in ten years.

That's an amazing rate of acceleration. We're going from changes on a geologic time scale to changes on a generational time scale, and then to changes we can watch year by year.

[Click to enlarge.]
Screencap from 4:37 of the video, showing retreat of ice in the Ilulissat Glacier in western Greenland. The ice is collapsing down a ravine under which lies a fjord. You can see the ocean on the left edge of the image. Ice is breaking off from the right and flowing to left in the image. The lines represent the changing "calving front."

As I said, collapses can be sudden, your second takeaway.

Video: Huge Glacier Breakup Captured on Camera

With all that in mind, watch the following video. It's just a few minutes long, and captures on video the "calving" of a piece of ice as large as lower Manhattan:

As the Huffington Post reports:
Video of that event, captured along with other frightening scenes, is front and center in "Chasing Ice," a recently-released documentary focused on examining the world's glaciers to determine evidence of broader climate change.

According to The Guardian, the glacier's calving (estimated to be 4.5 cubic miles in size) was captured by a team assembled by filmmaker James Balog near the Ilulissat glacier in Greenland. The entire ordeal took 75 minutes.
As the lecturer says at the end of the video, the visible part of the ice that broke off was the size of lower Manhattan and far taller than its skyscrapers. That's the part they could see. Remember that most of an iceberg is under water. According to Huffington Post, this ice mass was "4.5 cubic miles in size." Cubic.

The Time to Make a Difference Is Now

Which leads to my third takeaway, something that follows from what I've written so far. If people are "getting it" — and believe me, they are — and if collapse of visible and important aspects of our climate system is happening fast and now, this is not just a time of fear. It's a time of unique and valuable opportunity.

Teach into it by talking to everyone you know. Tell them: (1) It's not over yet; just getting there. (2) The only solution is to hit the carbon brakes, hard and now. Not slowly enough to keep Charles Koch in ego- and sociopathic bragging-money — now. (3) If doing that takes a kind of anti–"free market" revolution, what's the downside?

The answer, of course, is in the video. The downside is a future ice-free planet, and planetary social chaos for those alive today while we get there. Say that when someone asks, "Yeah, but at what cost?"


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