Today I went out on a plane to check out the ice situation offshore. Despite a favourable forecast, Mother Nature decided to hide her icy secrets in an extensive layer of fog. Despite being in the air for over 5 hours, the only icebergs I was able to see were within half a mile of shore. Those further offshore were shrouded in mists and mystery.

Up in the air - in so many senses

We may be able to try again later in the week, but pending further visual investigation, I decided to do some research online.

Our present challenges started two years ago, long before I knew I would be doing this row, when a chunk of ice four times the size of Manhattan calved away from the Petermann Glacier in Greenland. It would be tempting to immediately attribute this breaking up of ancient glaciers to climate change, but I want to be sure of my facts before I do so. It does the cause no good to try and establish tenuous links between naturally occurring phenomena and the impacts of humankind. I haven’t had much time to research this (several years of postgraduate study would have been handy) but here is what I have managed to find out in a few short hours online.

In response to the question: How abnormal is this event? Jason notes: “The August 2010 ice calving at Petermann is the largest in the observational record for Greenland” Falkner et al. (2011) scoured the observations and found no evidence of an event this large in scattered observations since 1876.

About 33 per cent of the Petersen Ice Shelf has eroded away between 2005 and 2008.

Issues may also arise if the ice islands make their way south into navigable waters.

In 2010, Greenland temperatures were the hottest on record. It also experienced record setting ice loss by melting.

The consequences could be dramatic, and the next 10 years will be decisive. If the Greenland ice sheet were to melt, it is projected by scientists that it would create a 23 feet rise in sea level.

The local Quidi Vidi beer, made from 25,000-year-old iceberg water

The featured image on this blog is a map of Britain if sea levels were to rise by 84 metres, i.e. if all the world’s ice melted. It would be nothing more than an archipelago of islands, with London relegated to the lost realm of Atlantis. This might sound far-fetched, but in 2009 scientists were predicting that the Arctic could become ice free within as little as a decade. (Do check out the video on that page, featuring polar explorer and all round good guy Pen Hadow.) The world has been ice-free before, and it could happen again. (More information and a climate animation here.)

This is uncharted territory for humankind, so by necessity there is a certain amount of guesswork involved as to the consequences – and the causes – of our rising temperatures. But how much are we willing to gamble with the future existence of our species while we make up our minds? The worst case scenario would make our present navigational travails seem supremely insignificant by comparison.



  • I am not one to beg any adventurer(s) to stall their dreams. It is that very energy that flows from toes to nose and fuels the bold to bend limits and lines of longitude. I am grateful for the time and technology to inform brave hearts . I know you two will back away to row another day . The ocean will be there, long after the ink drys on the pages of stories ..yet lived. Icebergs are blenders without brains. New oars will meet old waves  soon enough. Be safe, if only for a little while …… BSavage

  • Oh Roz, how frustrating.  I do hope you’re able to collect all the evidence you need so you and Mos can make an informed decision about the row.  Just know, I think you make a much better activist than you would a martyr so please be careful!

  • Roz,

    Planetary configurations have been most unusual this year so far and will continue to be.

    Venus Retrogrades in Gemini today, May 15, 2012 and will be so until June 27, 2012.

    Then we have the Annular Solar Eclipse in Gemini on May 20, 2012 ( a rare occurrence).  This eclipse is visible from East Asia to Western USA.

    Venus transit will be on 5 and 6 June 2012.  Its pair took place on 8 June 2004. The previous pair of transits were in December 1874 and December 1882. [What was going on in the world then?] After 2012, the next transits of Venus will be in December 2117 and December 2125. So this Venus transit will be the only one we will see now in our lifetime.

    There are more to come for skywatchers in June through August 2012.

    What are the possibilities that planetary alignments have anything to do with climatic changes?


  • Roz,

    I have been watching solar flares for months now as the Sun is projected to send Earth a series of solar storms in 2012/2013.  We have been experiencing mild flares the past few months. The most recent one might have helped raise the temperature so much to break off more ice. Scientists are watching closely now how power and communication grids are being affected globally as the solar energy from flares could render satellites and other nuclear power plants ineffective or inoperable.

    Monster Sunspot Fires Off Powerful Solar Flares

    Thinking of you and Mos,


  • Roz, your predicament is something I’d never imagined … but I am not a surprise. There were similar reports of Antarctic ice sheet fragments affecting the Southern Sea a few years ago. 

    I recall reading about Peterman. About five years ago, I also read that the Illulisat Glacier on Greenland’s west coast (“one of the world’s most productive glaciers and the fastest glacier brook in the world”) has doubled in speed during the past decade, now slides into Disko Bay at a rate of five feet per hour due to increased ice melt from rising temperatures. The ice melt acts as a lubricant and reduces friction between the base of the glacier and the bedrock.

    I appreciate your personal reports and research. Keep up the great work. Investigate carefully and know what you are getting in to — look before you leap.  In these times, it is critical (I know you already know that!)

    Know, Roz! Now

  • That map of the Isles is compelling… imagine Bangladesh…
    I’ve want to sail when I retire…and hitting bergs has definitely been on my mind, and I  fear that many spots on my ‘bucket list” will have to be reconsidered. 

    The ice berg has been used as a climate change metaphor…we’re going to hit it… the question is “how hard”?

    • Where the Hell do you all think 84 metres of water is going to come from? All the Northern
      ice is floating so it would displace the hole in which it sits. If all the ice in the Antarctic was to melt it would be enough to add around half a metre to the Pacific alone. Get a bloody grip folks!

  • Wow, this is major news. Even if naturally courting this event will have large consequences. Thank you for this blog. Your work is extremely important!

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