For the last few years, two fault lines in the Brunt Ice Shelf, near the westward Coats Lands region of Antarctica, have been slowly creeping toward one another. Although scientists are unsure when it will occur, they have calculated that the two will eventually intersect, causing the ice shelf to break off into the ocean — a process known as calving. The calving event on the Brunt Ice Shelf, as well as the response to it, is representative of how the climate crisis, and our reaction to it, should be framed.
The first fault line, Chasm 1, was stable for nearly 35 years, until 2012, when it began to widen. This widening was only accelerated by the appearance of the second fault line, Halloween Crack, first seen in October 2016. When the two cracks will eventually intersect, the Ice Shelf will fall off into the ocean and melt, raising sea levels.
Unfortunately, this isn’t an irregular phenomenon; it isn’t even the largest in the last decade. With that said, the location of this event is not where pieces of ice have typically separated from Antarctica — most calving occurs on the Antarctic Peninsula, north of the Brunt Ice Shelf. This unique occurrence clearly signifies that climate conditions have worsened. Again, scientists remain certain that most of the consequences of this particular event will be manageable, especially given the fact that larger pieces have already broken off. However, this calving event also contributes to the greater destabilization of the Ice Shelf as a whole. While it may not directly affect us yet, there should be no doubt that this will eventually be a harmful environmental event.
Ultimately, the calving of the Brunt Ice Shelf should be viewed as a microcosm of the climate crisis. There is something deeply unsettling about having an acute awareness of a problem, yet being completely unable to adequately respond. Similarly, the seemingly inconsequential effects of today, when combined with the effects of tomorrow, and the next day, and so on, will contribute to unimaginable effects later on; this is the worst kind of compound interest. And although it may seem contradictory, this slow build up over time can be just as powerful and devastating as brief, sudden moments of change. All of these statements are true for the calving of the Brunt Ice Shelf as well as the larger climate crisis. By facing the specific consequences of climate change, like the calving of the Ice Shelf, we can glean insights on how to face the crisis as a whole.
Cole Stallone is a sophomore in CAS majoring in History.
“Cole’s Climate Dispatch” will focus on the fact that climate change is the most important issue of our time. Scientists have given us a little more than a decade to prevent the worst of the crisis from coming true. Given the sense of urgency, dedicated commentary is needed to continue the conversation about this challenge. “Cole’s Climate Dispatch” will focus on the institutional response to climate change as well as major events that affect the political atmosphere and the ways in which students can have an impact.
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