can’t see the forest

Breaking the Ice – Canada’s Languishing Shelves

Posted in ecology, Ecosystems, Environment, Global Warming, Nature, News by Curtis on 12/29/06

He’s fallen on the ice, it cracks—
will he plunge in and join me here?
He meets my eyes. To my surprise,
he laughs in full light of my frown.
My double wants to pull me down.
—“It’s Ice,” Phish (Rift)

The BBC reports:

Scientists have discovered that an enormous ice shelf broke off an island in the Canadian Arctic last year, in what could be [a] sign of global warming. It is said to be the largest break in 25 years, casting an ice floe with an area of 66 sq km (25 square miles).

It occurred in August 2005 but was only recently detected on satellite images.

The chunk of ice bigger than Manhattan could wreak havoc if it moves into oil drilling regions and shipping lanes next summer, scientists warned.

“The Arctic is all frozen up for the winter and it’s stuck in the sea ice about 50km (30 miles) off the coast,” said Luke Copland, an assistant professor at the University of Ottawa.

“The risk is that next summer, as that sea ice melts, this large ice island can then move itself around off the coast and one potential path for it is to make its way westward toward the Beaufort Sea where there is lots of oil and gas exploration, oil rigs and shipping.”

The extreme latitudes are especially susceptible to the effects of global warming. Furthermore, loss of surface area from the ice shelf could mean, on the long term, a loss in the Earth’s albedo (reflectivity). This would inhibit the planet’s ability to naturally regulate its own surface temperature, creating a feedback mechanism with no clear end in sight.

It is difficult to tie any such specific event directly to the effects of human industrial activity, but it is known that Canada’s ice shelves have lost as much as 90% of their area since 1906.

Skeptics will point out that much of this activity could be due to geothermal stimuli, which is to be taken under advisory. But it also bears remembering that the loss of ice shelf into the Arctic Sea could pose a serious threat to the climate stability of northern Europe, drastically altering ocean currents and thus weather patterns and creating a new Little Ice Age while potentially contributing to the further warming of the planet as a whole.

See also Reclaiming Space‘s article on the disappearance of an inhabited island near India.


4 Responses

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  1. raincoaster said, on 12/30/06 at 1:38 pm

    Quite frankly, we’re lucky nobody was living there. The ice is critical to Canada’s northern people, and for many years the winter ice bridges which connect isolated communities and make it possible to truck in supplies have been endangered by the warming. Entire villages have had to move because they’ve become inaccessible except for a small number of weeks in the depths of winter.

  2. Curtis said, on 12/30/06 at 10:17 pm

    Thanks for highlighting that. It’s easy for us Yankees to forget the delicacy—no, that’s not quite the right word—the fragility of the ecosystems in that part of the world, where cultures survive with relatively little to depend on. Dad always told me that nature is a harsh taskmistress (although I’m sure that’s not an original.)

    I’m curious as to what you think of the seal hunting that goes on. Have you written about it before? Just curious, that’s all. I’m pretty poorly informed on that topic.

  3. raincoaster said, on 12/31/06 at 1:18 am

    I oppose fur hunting, period, and from a strictly PR point of view the seal hunt could not be conducted in a more self-destructive way. The economic justification is, frankly, bullshit; there is no meaningful market at this point. The cultural justification is also bullshit; I mean, they used to have slaves in the Maritimes too, but they got over that. The ecological justification (seals eat fish, we are losing fish, so we need fewer seals) is supreme bullshit; the reason we have fewer fish is that we’ve been overfishing.

    Newfoundland and Labrador are not really an area that will support a raging snotload of people financially, and perhaps it’s better if people realize that and have fewer children or move away, rather than attempt to prop up an industry which is so clearly on its last legs and doing Canada vast harm internationally.

  4. Charles Barton said, on 1/18/07 at 1:44 am

    Google is the best search engine

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