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Scientists Capture Striking Footage of a 4 Mile Iceberg Breaking Away From Greenland Glacier
The video shows a four-mile iceberg, about half the size of Manhattan, breaking away from Greenland's Helheim Glacier.
"Global sea-level rise is both undeniable and consequential," NYU professor and research team leader David Holland said. "By capturing how it unfolds, we can see, first-hand, its breath-taking significance."
The video shows the water level rise as the glacier breaks away.
Holland told The Verge that, when icebergs break off from glaciers into the ocean, they have a similar impact to the act of dropping a cube of ice into a glass of water.
"This process is very violent, very dramatic, and very one-way," Holland told The Verge. "It raises sea level, and it does it very abruptly."
The video footage was taken June 22 by Denise Holland, the logistics coordinator for NYU's Environmental Fluid Dynamics Laboratory and NYU Abu Dhabi's Center for Global Sea Level Change.
The break-away, or calving, lasted 30 minutes, but the video has been sped up to show the event in a little over 90 seconds.
Holland told The Verge her team was getting ready to go to sleep when she heard a change in the glacier's normal rumblings.
"It's hard to describe. It's like a jet engine, lots and lots of big booms, and it ricochets all over the calving," Holland told The Verge. "I turned on my camera, and I was lucky to catch what we saw."
Holland has also designed an image showing the size of the iceberg compared to Manhattan.
The size of the iceberg that broke away from a Greenland glacier, relative to Manhattan. Google Earth image courtesy of Denise Holland.
The footage isn't just a dramatic reminder of the realities of climate change. It can also help scientists and policy makers better predict and plan for it.
"Knowing how and in what ways icebergs calve is important for simulations because they ultimately determine global sea-level rise," Holland said in the NYU release. "The better we understand what's going on means we can create more accurate simulations to help predict and plan for climate change."
The first iceberg to break away was a wide and flat tabular iceberg that looked "like a pancake" David Holland told The Verge. It was followed by pinnacle bergs, which are tall and thin. These broke off and flipped over. The first tabular iceberg then crashed into another, breaking into two pieces which also flipped.
"The range of these different iceberg formation styles helps us build better computer models for simulating and modeling iceberg calving," Denise Holland said in the press release.
The footage is a dramatic example of a larger, dangerous process. A March study found that the Greenland ice sheet is melting at nearly twice the rate it melted at the end of the 19th century, Scientific American reported.If the entire ice sheet melted, global sea levels would rise by more than 20 feet.
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Last week, the Peruvian Palm Oil Producers' Association (JUNPALMA) promised to enter into an agreement for sustainable and deforestation-free palm oil production. The promise was secured by the U.S. based National Wildlife Federation (NWF) in collaboration with the local government, growers and the independent conservation organization Sociedad Peruana de Ecodesarrollo.
The rallying cry to build it again and to build it better than before is inspiring after a natural disaster, but it may not be the best course of action, according to new research published in the journal Science.
"Faced with global warming, rising sea levels, and the climate-related extremes they intensify, the question is no longer whether some communities will retreat—moving people and assets out of harm's way—but why, where, when, and how they will retreat," the study begins.
The researchers suggest that it is time to rethink retreat, which is often seen as a last resort and a sign of weakness. Instead, it should be seen as the smart option and an opportunity to build new communities.
"We propose a reconceptualization of retreat as a suite of adaptation options that are both strategic and managed," the paper states. "Strategy integrates retreat into long-term development goals and identifies why retreat should occur and, in doing so, influences where and when."
The billions of dollars spent to rebuild the Jersey Shore and to create dunes to protect from future storms after Superstorm Sandy in 2012 may be a waste if sea level rise inundates the entire coastline.
"There's a definite rhetoric of, 'We're going to build it back better. We're going to win. We're going to beat this. Something technological is going to come and it's going to save us,'" said A.R. Siders, an assistant professor with the disaster research center at the University of Delaware and lead author of the paper, to the New York Times. "It's like, let's step back and think for a minute. You're in a fight with the ocean. You're fighting to hold the ocean in place. Maybe that's not the battle we want to pick."
Rethinking retreat could make it a strategic, efficient, and equitable way to adapt to the climate crisis, the study says.
Dr. Siders pointed out that it has happened before. She noted that in the 1970s, the small town of Soldiers Grove, Wisconsin moved itself out of the flood plain after one too many floods. The community found and reoriented the business district to take advantage of highway traffic and powered it entirely with solar energy, as the New York Times reported.
That's an important lesson now that rising sea levels pose a catastrophic risk around the world. Nearly 75 percent of the world's cities are along shorelines. In the U.S. alone coastline communities make up nearly 40 percent of the population— more than 123 million people, which is why Siders and her research team are so forthright about the urgency and the complexities of their findings, according to Harvard Magazine.
Some of those complexities include, coordinating moves across city, state or even international lines; cultural and social considerations like the importance of burial grounds or ancestral lands; reparations for losses or damage to historic practices; long-term social and psychological consequences; financial incentives that often contradict environmental imperatives; and the critical importance of managing retreat in a way that protects vulnerable and poor populations and that doesn't exacerbate past injustices, as Harvard Magazine reported.
If communities could practice strategic retreats, the study says, doing so would not only reduce the need for people to choose among bad options, but also improve their circumstances.
"It's a lot to think about," said Siders to Harvard Magazine. "And there are going to be hard choices. It will hurt—I mean, we have to get from here to some new future state, and that transition is going to be hard.…But the longer we put off making these decisions, the worse it will get, and the harder the decisions will become."
To help the transition, the paper recommends improved access to climate-hazard maps so communities can make informed choices about risk. And, the maps need to be improved and updated regularly, the paper said as the New York Times reported.
"It's not that everywhere should retreat," said Dr. Siders to the New York Times. "It's that retreat should be an option. It should be a real viable option on the table that some places will need to use."
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