Last weekend I drove up to Christchurch for the opening of New Zealand Ice Fest – a celebration of Antarctic science held in Hagley Park. It’s the first one ever, though they’ll be doing it every two years.
I had been politely encouraged by some friends at the U.S. embassy to put together a song for the festival. Resisting any and all pressure to use “Ice, Ice Baby,” I opted for a song by Ice Cube – “Check yo’ self (Remix)“. It soon became ice-ified as “Check your shelf before you wreck your shelf,” in recognition of the science and impact of disintegrating ice shelves in Antarctica.
The song focuses on what’s on offer at Ice Fest. The only actual ice shelf reference comes in the chorus, where Cube’s “shot gun shells” are replaced with “greenhouse gases” – both of which are bad for your health.
Unsurprisingly, this got me curious about ice shelves. So here’s a quick primer (all of which I picked up from the National Snow and Ice Data Center website, and none of which I’m an expert in). Ice shelves can form where a glacier feeds ice toward an ocean, creating a big floating frozen sheet above the water. By bumping up against rocks, coastal features, and islands, these massive ice shelves push back against the glaciers that feed them, slowing down the flow of glacial ice into the ocean.
Large chunks of ice break off from the shelf into the ocean naturally but slowly (months to years). But recently there have been rapid disintegrations (weeks) of Canadian and Antarctic ice sheets. The 2002 Larsen ice shelf collapse got a lot of attention. Scientists believe the increase in disintegration speed is partly due to increasing air and water temperatures related to climate change. And because ice shelves slow down glacial flow, the loss of ice shelf mass can lead to rising sea levels (by removing some of the breaks, the glacial ice moves out faster).
As for Ice Fest itself, it covers everything from climate science to the psychology of going a winter without sunlight. They’ve got ice skating (if you dress like a penguin on Fridays its free!), two bars, tons of food, a wealth of great talks, and a great community atmosphere. It runs until the 14th of October. If you’re near Christchurch, check it out!
*Thanks to my amazing glaciologist friend (and fellow Fulbrighter) Laura Kehrl for making sure the ice science in this post was not too far out!