“While humans are killing humans, and governments are spending on weaponry as if there is no tomorrow, the environment is collapsing.”
Satellite imagery showing the recent “complete collapse” of the Conger Ice Shelf in East Antarctica sparked fresh alarm over the climate emergency on Friday.
“While humans are killing humans, and governments are spending on weaponry as if there is no tomorrow, the environment is collapsing—so that there will be no tomorrow,” said former Greek finance minister and Progressive International co-founder Yanis Varoufakis.
During that week, an unprecedented heat wave hit the region, with parts of East Antarctica seeing temperatures 40 degrees Celsius above normal. Scientists attributed the “freakish” warming to an atmospheric river.
The outlets pointed to a tweet with satellite imagery shared by Catherine Walker, an Earth and planetary scientist at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute and NASA.
Complete collapse of East Antarctica’s Conger Ice Shelf (~1200 sq. km) ~March 15, seen in combo of #Landsat and #MODIS imagery. Possible it hit its tipping point following the #Antarctic #AtmosphericRiver and heatwave too? #CongerIceShelf #Antarctica @helenafricker @icy_pete https://t.co/7dP5d6isvd pic.twitter.com/1wzmuOwdQn
— Catherine Colello Walker (@CapComCatWalk) March 24, 2022
Stef Lhermitte of the Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands on Friday shared time-lapse video of the change:
Antarctic ice sheet expert Bertie Miles also provided historical visual context for the collapse:
The complete collapse of the Conger Ice Shelf in recent days is the end of a long-term multi-decadal demise of the ice shelf. The image below shows its extent in 1973 (red line), where it joined with the Shackleton Ice Shelf. Most of the loss took place from 1973-2000 (blue line) pic.twitter.com/Y11LP6N4qJ
— Bertie Miles (@BertieMiles1990) March 25, 2022
In a March 17 press statement, the interagency National Ice Center (USNIC) confirmed that iceberg C-38 calved, or broke free, from the Conger Ice Shelf. “C-38 comprised virtually all that remained of the Conger Ice Shelf, which was adjacent to the Glenzer Ice Shelf which calved last week as iceberg C-37,” the USNIC said.
Ice shelves, as NASA describes, are “floating tongues of glaciers that extend over the ocean” and “slow the rate at which Antarctica’s glaciers contribute to global sea level rise” by holding back the flow of ice into the sea.
At roughly 1,200 square kilometers, according to the reporting, the Conger Ice Shelf was about the size of Los Angeles.
Despite that “relatively small size,” said glaciologist and climate scientist Peter Neff, the collapse still represents “a significant event.”
Andrew Mackintosh, an ice sheet expert at Australia’s Monash University, made a similar observation.
“This ice shelf may have been small but it is in EAST Antarctica, a region previously considered less vulnerable,” he said. “It’s a wake-up call.”
In a Twitter thread responding to the new reporting, Guardian columnist and climate activist George Monbiot pointed to a need for “systemic” changes to address the climate crisis and asked, “How many more warnings do we need that we are facing the prospect of a cascading regime shift?”
“The shift will push planetary conditions into a new state,” he continued. “This state will be hostile to the species that thrived in the old one. Species like us.”
Monbiot further lamented that climate-related changes remain “at the bottom of the agenda” and asserted that “in retrospect, if there is a retrospect, we’ll see the current phase of our slide towards disaster as the least comprehensible of all.”
“We knew what was happening. The writing was on the wall,” he added. “Yet we carried on opening new oil fields, driving SUVs, leaving homes uninsulated.”