Politics, Sci-Tech

Big Freeze heads off to Big Dry way ahead of Copenhagen talks

They’d better talk fast in Copenhagen. And quickly decide what to do. Because climate change is happening much faster than the rabbiting on about the University of East Anglia row – where decades will likely pass before they decide whether the figures were fudged or not.

Anyway, who cares? Science has just been beaten to the punch by reality.

A monster iceberg nearly twice the size of Hong Kong island has been spotted drifting towards Western Australia. Scientists say this is a once-in-a-century event, and such a large iceberg hasn’t been found in the area since the 19th century when clippers sailed the waters between Britain and Oz. It couldn’t have come at a more opportune time for climate change supporters. It’s like any number of doomsday movies that Hollywood is churning out. You wake up in Cape Town one morning and you’re in Antarctica. Talk about a cheap and exotic holiday.

The Aussie glaciologist who found the 19km-long slab says it’s about 1,700km south of the Big Dry (that’s what the camels and rabbits of the Outback call Australia). That’s about 300km further than Jozi is from Kaapstad by road, but it’s halfway to Tasmania from Antarctica – so it’s getting there. Young was sitting at his computer somewhere in the burbs, when the floater popped up on satellite imagery. The 140km² beast would likely have been seen by the crew of the Titanic well ahead of time, as Hong Kong island’s surface area is only about 80km², and you can’t really miss that, even in the rear-view-mirror.

Young reckons the berg was carved off the Antarctic about 10 years ago and has been floating slowly around the icy continent before heading north. The finding comes after two large icebergs were spotted further east, off Australia’s Macquarie Island, followed by more than 100 smaller ice chunks drifting towards New Zealand.

The biggest iceberg ever found was B-15A, which measured about 11,000km². This baby broke away from Western Antarctica’s Ross Ice Shelf in March 2000. It held that distinction for more than three years until splitting into two pieces early in October 2003. Several other massive icebergs migrated during 2000 and 2001, grounding against Ross Island, where the planet’s southernmost active volcano, Erebus (3,794m), as well as the dormant volcano Terror (3,230m) are found. These giants have now influenced wind and sea current patterns, altering the regional ecology. And seeing that more than 70% of an iceberg is hidden underwater – much like the human mind – we don’t really know much about them.

So come out of hiding, Copenhagen. And act fast. And in the meanwhile, perhaps we haul some of these things to port and use them for human and other animal irrigation.

By Mark Allix

Read more: Guardian, Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering, Discovery Channel, Australian Antarctic Division


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