Calving Laws

Photo by Steve Halama on Unsplash

A very thorough article in the New York Times about the collapse of Greenland’s Ice Sheet was less than precise about the timeline for rising ocean levels.   Melting on this scale is unprecedented in human history.  University of California – Irvine professor Eric Rignot was quoted saying ‘‘‘We’ve never seen it. No human has ever seen it.’’

The problem is made worse by the fact that ice is complicated.

“Glaciologists remain vexed, for instance, by the physics of how ice cleaves off the edge of the sheet. As Rignot told me, ‘‘We don’t have a set of mathematical rules to put in a numerical model to tell you how fast a glacier breaks into icebergs.’’ He emphasized that discovering these rules, known as calving laws, could be all-­important. 

This unfortunate gap in our scientific understanding of the effects of climate change cries out for a silly little rhyme that can simplify the unexplainable.

When the glaciers up in Greenland break apart, we say they “calve”.
Now they’re melting at a speed at which great glaciers never have.

If you want to know how fast that is I’ll share a helpful clue:
Mammoth ice chunks tend to liquefy as quickly as they do.

They will crack and pop and shift and drain from bottom to the top.
Getting worse exactly at the rate that ice shelves go “ker-plop.”

Then they’ll drop into the ocean with sufficient force to flatten,
and to cause enough displacement to submerge lower Manhattan.

To assess the speed precisely you can do this computation –
Take the age of your old Buick times the planet’s population.

Then subtract all of the bike trips that you took to work last May
from the setting on your thermostat on any average day.

And divide this by how often you drive to the corner store
plus how long the car will idle while you run back in for more.

Add that number to the time it takes to soak in a hot tub.
Then you’ll know how quickly glaciers melt!

Glub glub,

glub glub.



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