Ice shelf break-up caused media circus

Published May 1, 2002

The panic mongers, from CNN to the Australian Broadcasting Corp. (ABC), are in full cry. An ice shelf, “Larsen B,” on the eastern side of the Antarctic Peninsula, has broken up into a mosaic of smaller icebergs.

The ABC incorrectly claimed the Antarctic had warmed 2°C during the last century. Wrong! Only the 2 percent of the Antarctic poking out into the Southern Ocean—the part where this ice shelf is located—warmed. The other 98 percent has actually been cooling and accumulating ice.

Then the ABC claimed “scientists” blamed it all on “global warming.” The ABC gave a filmed comment by one just to prove their point: the British Environment Minister! So environmental politicians are now regarded as scientists?

On March 20, the West Australian newspaper claimed, “The scientists were reported as being ‘astounded at the speed of the break up.’ ‘It is hard to believe that 500 million billion tonnes of ice sheet has disintegrated in less than a month,’ the scientists are quoted as saying.”

Which “scientists”? We don’t know. But a floating ice shelf is like the crust of the Earth floating on the Earth’s plastic mantle. Stresses build up, cracks open, and all of a sudden out of the blue … earthquake! When the quake happens, it is sudden and catastrophic. No “scientist” should find it “hard to believe” that an ice shelf would behave any differently given the similar dynamics involved.

The Larsen break-up has been coming for years, and its demise has long been expected. An “ice shelf” is simply a glacier that reaches down all the way to the coast and then spills out over the sea, pushing its way further and further from land, floating on the sea, until tidal forces, water erosion from beneath, and sunlight from above finally weaken the floating mass and it breaks off. It’s dramatic and happens on a grand scale … but it’s also very, very, natural.

It happens all the time.

This one is bigger than most, that’s all. But that does not stop the media circus from attaching this event to “global warming,” even though the British Antarctic Survey says it is premature to attribute warming in the Peninsula to an enhanced greenhouse effect.

According to a BBC report, “As far as global implications are concerned, there are few as far as the present event is concerned.” Which is about right, as there will be no sea level rise resulting from the break-up of this ice shelf because the ice was displacing its own weight anyway as it was floating on the sea. Since the warming of the Peninsula is a purely local anomaly, it too has no global significance beyond the immediate effect this may have on the local environment. Yahoo News, in a story titled “Cool and Warm,” also took a more balanced view of the event.

The Peninsula is only a tiny part of the whole Antarctic (part of it is not even within the Antarctic Circle), and recent studies show that the great mass of the Antarctic is cooler and amassing, not losing, ice. All ice shelves that project themselves out into open water must break up eventually, simply due to contact with the warmer water and the tidal stresses. It’s evolution.

Or perhaps the greenhouse industry has forgotten about evolution—not just of living things, but of the whole Earth. Where did they get this idea that natural evolution events must now stop and all new events be blamed on mankind’s activities?

John Daly is the author of The Greenhouse Trap (Bantam Books, 1989) and many articles and papers in popular and professional publications. He hosts the “Still Waiting for Greenhouse” Web site at