Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Broken Shelves

Earlier today, a 19-square-mile piece of ice in the Arctic broke free and floated out to sea like a giant, Manhattan-sized ship. It had been a part of Ellesmere Island, Canada for the last three to four thousand years.

That's a really big piece of ice, right? Every summer, the Arctic cap tends to lose some of its shelf, but usually regains it back over the colder months. According to today's article, the losses for this summer have equaled 82-square-miles.

These changes are irreversible under the present climate and indicate that the environmental conditions that have kept these ice shelves in balance for thousands of years are no longer present

For clarification, ice shelves are floating pieces of ice that are attached to land, but sit over the water. The good news for us is that sea level does not change when floating ice melts. But the breakup of an ice shelf leaves a glacier (ice over land) exposed and more susceptible to cracks and breaks. When a glacier melts, sea level rises. Melting glaciers also induce the breaking-off of shelf ice, further inducing glacial surges that can drastically change sea level.

Basically, this is not a good thing. Well, not for the ecosystems that live on the shelves, which will no longer exist by 2049 according to UCAR, and not for us or any other species that likes to live on land, and without being baked alive.

The planet, however, will be just fine and the creatures of the sea will start to take over again. Maybe the octopuses will become the next super species, and have pet sharks, and farm schools of guppies, and trade crabs as currency.

Or maybe it will be just like that Kevin Costner movie, and we'll all start to develop gills behind our ears and dirt will become a delicacy. Mmmmmm, delicious!

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