A very thorough article in the New York Times about the collapse of Greenland’s Ice Sheet was less than precise about the timeline for rising ocean levels. Melting on this scale is unprecedented in human history. University of California – Irvine professor Eric Rignot was quoted saying ‘‘‘We’ve never seen it. No human has ever seen it.’’
The problem is made worse by the fact that ice is complicated.
“Glaciologists remain vexed, for instance, by the physics of how ice cleaves off the edge of the sheet. As Rignot told me, ‘‘We don’t have a set of mathematical rules to put in a numerical model to tell you how fast a glacier breaks into icebergs.’’ He emphasized that discovering these rules, known as calving laws, could be all-important. Richard Alley, a glaciologist at Penn State, told me: ‘‘Problems that deal with fracture mechanics — volcanic eruptions, or earthquakes, or things that involve the question ‘Will it break or not?’ — tend to be difficult. You ask, Will the ice shelf break off a lot or a little bit? Will the cliff left behind crumble? Will it crumble fast? Will it crumble slow?’’ So far, Alley says, we can’t be sure. But a formula might tell us in advance how fast the ice sheets might crash into the sea.”
After I told Trail Baboon’s sing-song poet laureate Tyler Schuyler Wyler about this unfortunate gap in scientific understanding of the effects of climate change, he immediately warmed to the idea of taking it on as an artistic challenge.
The great glaciers up in Greenland look serene and sharp and still.
But they’re melting at the speed at which great glaciers often will.
If you want to know how fast that is I’ll share this helpful clue:
Mammoth ice chunks liquefy as quickly as they’re wont to do,
They will crack and pop and shift and drain from bottom to the top.
Getting worse exactly at the rate that ice shelves go “ker-plop,”
when they drop into the ocean with sufficient force to flatten,
and to cause enough displacement to submerge lower Manhattan.
To assess the speed precisely you can do this computation –
Take the age of your old Buick times the planet’s population
Then subtract the number of bike trips you took to work last May
from the setting on your thermostat on any average day.
Then divide this by how often you drive to the corner store
plus how long you let it idle while you run back in for more.
Add that number to the time it takes to soak in a hot tub
and you’ll know how quickly glaciers melt!
Glub glub, glub glub.
Where’s your favorite spot to view the ocean?