Symbols (and symptoms) of a warming world

by Mike Gaworecki

August 12, 2010

I’ve been meaning to write a post about the giant ice island — 100 square miles, the size of four Manhattans! — that broke off of Petermann Glacier in northwest Greenland last week. You can’t overstate the seriousness of this event, or what it portends for our future if we don’t do something to check global warming.

Then I read this AP article, and realized I pretty much couldn’t sum it up any better:

It’s been a summer of near biblical climatic havoc across the planet, with wildfires, heat and smog in Russia and killer floods in Asia. But the moment the Petermann glacier cracked last week — creating the biggest Arctic ice island in half a century — may symbolize a warming world like no other.

The article goes on to discuss how the floating ice island could be on a collision course with several offshore drilling platforms off of the coast of Newfoundland. A bitter irony there: Those platforms helped create the global temperature rise that contributed to the calving of the Petermann Glacier, which has in turn led to this new threat facing the drilling platforms. And as we’ve seen in the Gulf over the past few months, there is enough to worry about with offshore drilling platforms to begin with.

These images from NASA show the glacier before and after the ice island broke off (it’s the wedge-shaped bit of ice in the middle of the second photo):

NASA image of Petermann Glacier

NASA image of Petermann Glacier

The calving of Petermann Glacier is a bad sign, to be sure, but not entirely unexpected. Scientists have been watching and monitoring the cracks in the glacier for years. In 2009 scientists predicted an ice island the size of Manhattan Island would break off.

Last summer we sent our ship the Arctic Sunrise to Greenland to serve as a platform for independent scientists studying the sensitivity of Petermann Glacier to global warming, and to set up instruments to record the calving of the glacier.  The scientists on board our ship installed remote cameras and GPS devices on Petermann glacier, and even though it did not calve last year, they left their instruments behind to continue monitoring how it was faring in our warming world. Scientists are attempting to collect the data from those devices as I type.

In another bitter irony, the Petermann Glacier was disintegrating as the Arctic Sunrise was arriving Florida. Today the ship embarked on a tour to examine the impacts of BP’s oil spill on the Gulf of Mexico — in other words, yet another catastrophic consequence of our continued reliance on oil and other fossil fuels.

Our addiction to fossil fuels is wreaking havoc on our planet. We’ll keep documenting the truth about the impacts of our fossil fuel use. Stay tuned to this page about the current ship tour in the Gulf for updates from the crew onboard.

We’re working with, 10:10, and a global coalition of folks working to stop global warming to make October 10th the biggest single day of action against climate change in world history. Register a 10:10 work party now!

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