Friday, December 29, 2006

Put it on the shelf

Mills of the gods

It is reported that a giant "ice shelf"has broken loose, or, in the dramatic words of the Associate Press "snapped free" from Canada's Arctic. In order to get really worried about this event, you need to know what an ice shelf is, which I did not. Turns out that an ice shelf is a thick floating platform of ice that juts out into the ocen from a glacier. This particular "shelf" has been around for about 3,000 years which, in geologic time, does not strike me as that big a deal, but seems to be worrying climatologists plenty.

The ice shelf was described as the size of 11,000 football fields. Let us linger over that description a moment. First of all, the damn thing was in Canada and under Canadian football rules, the football field is much bigger than here in the United States. Was it 11,000 Canadian Fields or U.S. Fields ? Second, while I occasionally see football fields as a unit of measure (apparently done for the convenience of American men who can only visualize length in the form of first downs, or holding penalties) I have never seen it used for more than about three football fields. In other words, something your average fan can visualize. The average fan can no more visualize 11,000 football fields than he can 110,000 holding penalties measured from the spot of the foul. It is just a dumb description. I had to read through two pages of the article until I found out that the shelf was 41 square miles. Now that's a description. And it was described in miles too, not just kilometers, so I have a pretty good handle of how to visualize it in my mind. It is like someone dropped a solid ice mass on Austin that extended about to San Marcos in the south, Luling in the east, Lampassas in the west and almost to Belton in the north. That's a lot of ice. It is also a lot of football fields, but who gives a shit ? I can see ice dropping on that land area. I can't imagine anyone taking the time to outline 11,000 football fields over it, Canadian or otherwise.

At any rate, in a world where we knew within minutes that George Clooney's pot bellied pig died, it took 16 months for anyone to notice this cataclysmic event. 16 months. While you were on vacation in august of 2005, 11,000 iced football fields "snapped free" from Elesmere Island in Canada. The explanation ? "no one was present". If an ice shelf cracks in the Arctic and no one is there does it make a sound ? Hell yes. Earthquake Monitors 250 Kilometers away (I don't know how far away that is in football fields) picked it up. Why are we just now getting around to checking ? One explanation may be the group up north who is in charge. "The Canada Ice Service". And they say we have beaurucrats down here. The government in Ottawa has a whole service devoted to ice. That's a big job. You try monitoring every hotel ice machine in Toronto. You don't have a lot of time to mush on up to Ellesmere Island and check out earth quake sounds. It took a satellite (and I bet it was a US satellite) to finally uncover the event.

The scientist from Laval University (whose team is playing in today's Music City Bowl against Kentucky) "could not believe what he saw". What he probably could not believe was that he had to inform the Canadian government that while he was sawing fishing holes in Lake Ontario, two Augusts ago, 41 square mile ice islands were starting to float around in the Beaufort Sea, meaning that all Canadian maps have been wrong for the last year and a half, and that the shipping lanes there had at least one more fairly large impediment. "We are losing our ice shelfs" was how the fellow summed it up. No, you lost one. There are only three places in the world with ice shelves, Canada, Greenland and Antarctica, so if you want to see one, you'd better move fast. For all the world knows, they all broke free in the last year and a half. Has anyone checked the other shelves since we found out about losing this one ? Or is it business as usual in the halls of the Canadian Ice Service? Here's a nation that brags about its' free health care and cheap prescription drugs, but it does not notice when 41 miles of its' territory floats away.

So Global Warming claims another victim. I wonder if Al Gore has ever considered moving to Canada ? He'd be a shoe in for Prime Minister.


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