Together, the glaciers of Greenland and Antarctica hold three-quarters of the world’s fresh water. Due to the greenhouse effect and global warming, these glaciers are melting at an accelerated rate. If the trend continues, glacial melt could raise the sea level worldwide as much as 250 feet – enough to swamp coastal communities on every shore.
Also, many areas are already experiencing water shortages that threaten the health of their communities. The shrinking of glaciers only worsens the problem. When glacial ice melts into the ocean, it becomes non-potable, further diminishing the overall supply of fresh drinking water.
As the effects of global warming become increasingly severe, climate scientists are paying close attention to the migration and melting of Earth’s glaciers. They are also monitoring the volume of sea ice, those chunks that break from glaciers in “calving” events. This data provides a reliable measure of how quickly the climate is changing.
What is Ice Calving?
Ice calving is a cataclysmic event in which large chunks of ice break away from a larger glacier. While calving is not a new phenomenon, it is becoming more and more frequent as the temperatures of both air and ocean continue to rise.
Scientific observation at Greenland’s Ilulissat Icefjord confirms that the glacier has receded 9 miles during the preceding decade, uncovering more ground in ten years than it did during the entire previous century as it slips toward the sea. This dramatic acceleration reflects the expansion of the greenhouse effect and increasingly disastrous environmental consequences.
The Calving Event Caught on Video
Adam LeWinter and Jeff Orlowski of the Extreme Ice Survey (EIS) team filmed the largest single ice calving event ever recorded. It took place at the Ilulissat Icefjord where a massive glacial sheet produces more icebergs than any other site except Antarctica. The heart-stopping footage treads a fine line between the miraculous and the terrifying. The story it reveals is enough to inspire anyone to be green.
Jeff and Adam are staked out on the shores of the Ilulissat Icefjord, their time-lapse camera at the ready. It is the 17th day of their vigil as they wait for the glacier to calve. From their vantage point on the sand, they can clearly see the soaring glacial crags that jut from the ice-covered earth to the Delft blue sky. As they make a routine check-in call with Jim Balog, their EIS project lead, something starts to happen.
It begins with a trickle tumbling between towers of ice. The small rill swiftly morphs into a cascade of snow. Expanding flows spread across the glacial face like multiple Niagras as icy shoulders shed their cloaks of snow. The frozen skyscrapers start to fall, one after another, in a chain reaction of precisely orchestrated implosions.
As the sharp, staccato cracks and low, tortured moans of the calving glacier crescendo, crags of ice explode toward the blue canopy above. For a few glorious seconds, they are free of their frozen bonds, but almost immediately, the pitiless force of gravity snatches them back so the roiling waters can swallow them whole.
Gargantuan hunks of solid ice sound to the surface like blue whales, the largest mammals to ever occupy the earth. Sprays of ice crystals spout above them as they gasp for air.
Now the calved ice is on the move, rolling with the tsunami-like waves of water toward the open sea in a massive, inexorable migration. The broken Ilulissat Glacier, diminished yet determined, continues its slow slide shoreward. It has taken a mere 75 minutes to pulverize a city of ice nearly the size of Manhattan with architecture almost 250,000 years old.
How You Can Help
You can help slow the loss of the earth’s glacial mass, which currently contains the vast majority of the planet’s fresh water supply. Be green, and work within your community to cut down on greenhouse gas emissions. Carpooling, riding public transportation and cycling are smart alternatives to driving. Recycling reduces landfill waste and manufacturing emissions. Conserving water and electricity helps too. Even hosting your website on an environmentally friendly web hosting provider helps. By doing your part to cut greenhouse gas emissions, you help reduce the heat trapped within the atmosphere. This gives the earth – and its glaciers – more space to breathe.