An oblique view of a massive rift in the Antarcitc Peninsula’s Larsen C ice shelf is shown in this November 10, 2016 photo taken by scientists on NASA’s IceBridge mission in Antarctica. Courtesy John Sonntag/NASA/Handout via REUTERS
A Delaware-sized chunk of ice is about to split off from the Antarctic ice sheet, and reading many media outlets would have you believe man-made global warming is to blame.
But man-made warming has little to do with the ice sheet’s rift, and scientists have been fairly consistent in calling the rift part of natural processes.
“Skeptical environmentalist” Bjorn Lomborg, president of the Copenhagen Consensus Center, pointed out the media-science divide on Twitter Monday.
— Bjorn Lomborg (@BjornLomborg) July 10, 2017
Larsen C started breaking off in 2010, a process that’s been accelerated by periods of high temperatures in the Arctic. In May alone, the rift grew 11 miles in six days. But that’s nothing new to the South Pole.
The Larsen C ice shelf rift if “like a dozen other rifts observed in Antarctica before,” according to professor Helen Amanda Fricker at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, who argues the “enormous loss is just ordinary housekeeping for this part of Antarctica.”
Fricker’s post in late June is a marked departure from the narrative perpetuated by several prominent media outlets in the past couple of months about the explosive growth of the rift in the Larsen C ice shelf on the Antarctic Peninsula.
A Monday New York Magazine article on how global warming could make the Earth uninhabitable by the end of the century wrote “the break now has just three miles to go — by the time you read this, it may already have met the open water, where it will drop into the sea one of the biggest icebergs ever, a process known poetically as ‘calving.’”
“The piece of floating ice in question is colossal,” Business Insider’s Dave Mosher reported in early June. “It’s destabilizing quickly, a process accelerated by human-caused climate change.”
The Washington Post’s Chris Mooney noted the Larsen C rift to “could draw further attention to the threat of climate change at a time when President Trump is considering whether to exit the Paris agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”
The Guardian (ironically, where Fricker published her article) published a blog claiming the Larsen C rift “hammers home reality of climate change.” The blog itself did point out how scientists can’t blame the event on man-made warming, but went with the “climate” headline anyways.
Scientists have been pretty consistent in not blaming the Larsen C rift on man-made global warming.
Adrian Luckman, one of the scientists tracking the Larsen C rift, tweeted his support for Fricker taking on the “rift hype.”
Thanks, Helen, for elegantly redressing some of the rift hype: Melting and cracking – is Antarctica falling apart? https://t.co/6eSGuxoNVR
— Adrian Luckman (@adrian_luckman) June 23, 2017
“Glaciologists are not alarmed about most of these processes; they are examples of Antarctica simply doing what we know Antarctica has done for thousands of years,” Fricker wrote.
“The situation is a conundrum: we want people to be aware of Antarctica and concerned about what might happen there in the near future as climate changes,” Fricker wrote. “But hyping research results to sound like climate change, when they are just improved understanding of natural behaviour, is misleading.”