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Look out! Look out!

The Arctic Ice is disappearing much faster than anyone thought possible. Events which were supposed to take centuries are occurring now.

Scientists at Canada’s new global ice laboratory, at the University of Ottawa, have discovered a giant ice shelf cracked off Canada’s most northerly island, Ellesmere Island. The Ayles ice shelf is about 40 square miles. Now it is loose in the Arctic, and next year may head toward shipping lanes, or run into offshore oil platforms.

Unlike an ice sheet, which is over land, an ice shelf floats on the sea, but is attached to land. Several big ice shelves have broken off Antarctica, including the gigantic Larsen B collapse in 2002. This time, we’ve seen the end of one of only six huge ice shelves in the Arctic. One down, five to go.

The Canadian Ayles sheet broke off in a sudden thundering event on August 13th, 2005. That’s what earthquake monitors show. Even more disturbing, we didn’t find out about this major Arctic event for a year and a half. That’s is how bad our monitoring of Arctic ice really is. Who cares if the Arctic Sea turns into an open lake? Who is watching?

The ice shelf was 3,000 years old. Professor Warwick Vincent of Laval University in Quebec City told Michael McCarthy of the Independent newspaper:

“This is a dramatic and disturbing event. It shows that we are losing remarkable features of the Canadian North that have been in place for many thousands of years…. Unusually warm temperatures definitely played a major role. It is consistent with climate change.”

Find that at:

Two NASA reports last September revealed an area of ice, the size of Turkey, disappeared from the Arctic in just the last 12 months. Where early explorers dared to cross countless miles of ice, last summer it was possible to sail to the North Pole.

In 1906, when Arctic explorer Robert Peary first examined the region, there were almost 4,000 square miles of ice shelves. Today, 90 percent of those are already gone.

This is why the United States government finally recognized that the Polar Bear, which must get its main meals from the ice, is endangered as a species. So is the entire way of life of the Arctic people, the Inuit.

We’ll all pay for this big change. Where the mass of ice reflected the Sun’s rays back into space, the much darker sea will absorb the heat, fuelling even more global warming. That is called the Albedo effect, and it makes a positive feedback loop: more warming means less ice cover, which means more warming.

Official government scientists, like Dr. Luke Copland, are still officially cautious, saying it is too early to conclude this came from human induced climate change. I suppose the whole Arctic will become tropical, before government scientists express themselves, much less become activists, to help save us.

It is simply amazing to me that the Emperor of fossil fuels can parade naked in the streets, while everyone admires his imaginary clothes. The Arctic ice is sinking into history. Temperatures there are more than 5 degrees above normal, and may experience a double digit increase within a decade or two.

There are exceptions. NASA’s Jim Hansen has just said we are heading toward a very different planet, unless we protect the atmosphere from our exhaust, starting now.

I like the planet I was born on. Emperors and fashions came and went, history recorded its dismal tale, but at least we could count on the Seasons, apparently fixed by some Power, at the beginning of time. Now we find the climate system is delicate, and changeable as the wind itself. Even a small force like a smokestack, or an exhaust pipe, can tip the Earth into roaring instability, where every species must move, scatter, and survive if they can.

Ice quakes send shivers up my spine.

This is Alex Smith. Join me for much more climate information at

Check out this ABC News video (while it remains active) of the Ayles Shelf, and what this really means for the arctic and the climate: