Icebergs off Greenland

Bad Astronomy
The entire universe in blog form
July 30 2012 7:00 AM

Icebergs off Greenland

Greenland's been in the news lately, what with cracking off an iceberg as big as Manhattan, and having a huge burst of melting due to unusual warm air ridges squatting over it.

The Greenland ice sheet is huge: 1.7 million square kilometers (650,000 square miles), and commonly creates a lot of icebergs in the summer. This season is no exception, and in mid-July, during the biggest melt ever seen, In 2005, NASA's Terra Earth-observing satellite took this quite beautiful shot of icebergs floating off Greenland in Baffin Bay: [NOTE: My mistake, I thought this was a recent pic, but it's actually from 2005! Oops. I somehow missed that, and thanks to r721 in the comments for pointing it out. I'll note I saw this picture before all the Greenland melting news, and was going to post it simply because it was beautiful! Then all the other news came out, and so I waited to post it. Sorry about the error, and I'll add that this doesn't change anything I wrote here except for the part I struck through above about timing.]

Phil Plait Phil Plait

Phil Plait writes Slate’s Bad Astronomy blog and is an astronomer, public speaker, science evangelizer, and author of Death From the Skies!  

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[Click to hugely englacienate.]

Note the scale; the image is about 45 km (27 miles) on a side. The image is a mix of natural colors and infrared; that makes the water look deep blue, the ground brown, and vegetation red (the Greenland coast has grass and other plants). The icebergs are easy enough to spot, some are several hundred meters across. The smaller ones pose the biggest navigational hazard, and images like this (as well as spotters on the sea and in the air) help seafarers avoid the worst of them.

And one thing I want to note. Last week I wrote about the Greenland ice melt in July, and as usual got some, um, interesting comments about it. I was very careful when talking about the Greenland melting and not tie it to global warming; I start the paragraph saying it's difficult to pin any specific event with climate change, and end with saying the melting is consistent with what we expect. I even mention the fact that some of the melting is probably due to historic cycles, yet many people made comments as if they hadn't read that particular statement. It's amazing to me. It shows the state of the "debate" now; it doesn't matter how careful I am and what pains I take to be accurate. The attacks blow through as if - oddly enough - facts don't matter.

It would be so much easier if I could just make things up out of thin (but hot) air, find some small niggling point to amplify well beyond what's called for, to bend facts like moldable plastic to fit whatever preconceived ideology I have.

But when it comes to things like this, I have no ideology. Seriously. I would love for global warming to not be true. I would love it if the facts indeed showed our climate is stable, or that the change is natural, or that the change won't have any deleterious effects.

Alas, that's not the case. Reality is, in the end, real. As is global warming, and the sooner we get past the political noise about it, the better.

Image credit: NASA/JPL



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