Ice­berg as big as Adams, Ara­pa­hoe coun­ties

The Denver Post - - COLORADO KIDS -

Some months ago, we re­ported on a large chunk of ice shelf that was crack­ing and threat­en­ing to break off the Antarc­tic Penin­sula and float out into the ocean. Now the Euro­pean Space Agency is warn­ing that there is only about three miles of ice left hold­ing that chunk of ice in place.

Three miles might seem a lot, but the crack has grown to 124 miles long, so three miles is like that lit­tle string that held your baby tooth in when you were too scared to just yank.

And when this “tooth” comes out, it’s go­ing to be quite a bit larger than a baby tooth.

ESA satel­lite mea­sure­ments show that the ice­berg that will re­sult is go­ing to be about 6,000 square kilo­me­ters, or 2,316 square miles, in area.

That means, if you wanted to store it on the Front Range, it would cover all of Ara­pa­hoe and Adams coun­ties, and, if you also laid it over the city and county of Den­ver, there’d still be about 500 square kilo­me­ters left.

And the to­tal thick­ness of this gi­gan­tic ice cube will av­er­age about 657 feet, about half the height of the Em­pire State Build­ing, so that, if it does drift away from Antarc­tica and up to­wards the Falk­land Is­lands, it -- or its pieces, if it breaks apart -- could be­come a se­ri­ous haz­ard for ships.

There is some good news in this. Be­cause this is part of the Larsen Ice Shelf, that means it’s al­ready in the wa­ter around Antarc­tica.

It won’t fall into the wa­ter and raise the sea lev­els, be­cause it’s al­ready float­ing, and it won’t change sea lev­els when it melts for the same rea­son that, when ice cubes in a drink melt, it doesn’t make the glass over­flow.

But that’s the good news.

The bad news is that the ice shelves around Antarc­tica act as block­ages to keep the glaciers and ice rivers from slid­ing faster from the land into the ocean.

Once this enor­mous piece of shelf is gone, the re­main­ing shelf will be that much weaker, and the enor­mous glaciers of Antarc­tica, al­ready be­gin­ning to melt as the cli­mate changes, will have less keep­ing them from fall­ing into the ocean them­selves, which would raise sea lev­els.

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