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Breaking the Ice Shelf - Why Hide the Crack?


The ice shelf breaks away. Click to enlarge.
In December 2006 it was widely reported that the 25.5-square-mile Ayles ice-shelf broke free from Ellesmere island, some 500 miles south of the North Pole. (See the National Geographic report for more details.)

This event actually occurred in 2005 when it had been observed by satellite images (click here for animations of the event), but, according to Luke Copeland of the University of Ottawa Global Laboratory for Cryospheric Research, the information was not released until the reasons for the split could be determined.

Not surprisingly, Copeland and colleagues found that the event, which was sizeable enough to register on earthquake monitors 155 miles away, is consistent with global warming.

I understand that scientists should be as deliberate as possible in doing their research, and circumspect (or silent) about their work until all of the essential methodology of good scientific research prior to publishing are carried out.

But I find it incredibly surprising that the news of the ice-shelf breaking off was held back from publication for almost one-and-a-half years! After all, the ice-shelf cracking is incontrovertible data that is not in question. More important, it is essential data for all inhabitants of this planet.

Why was the news withheld? In all of the news reports and blog posts I have seen covering the ice-shelf split there’s been no questioning of the reason given for the delay. I have even seen some reporting erroneously that satellite photos had recorded the shelf-cracking when it happened, but that this was not noticed on the photos until recently. (See the Climate Audit post by S. McIntyre, who states that "the catastrophe actually occurred in August 2005, but no one noticed until 16 months later.")

No doubt publication of the news would have caused many to speculate that global warming was at work here, and the grim prognostications of global warming predicted for so many years - icebergs breaking free and wreaking unimaginable havoc - were finally coming true. Copeland and his colleagues would have been peppered with requests to say why the shelf had split. Extreme eco-groups would have used the news to bolster their efforts at energizing others to join their cause. Maybe these possibilities were considerations in holding back the news, in addition to the scientific reason.

Or maybe there were political considerations - the scientists were being extremely careful to check all data and analyses before reporting because those who don’t believe in global warming, or, if they do, don’t believe that it is due to human activity, will seize on any inaccuracy or inconsistency to not support efforts to slow down global warming.

I don’t buy any of these reasons - nothing can justify the withholding of factual news of such a large-scale event.