134 Billion Metric Tons Per Year

Iceberg Grounded Off Antarctic Peninsula, December 2011

Iceberg Grounded Off Antarctic Peninsula, December 2011

The human imagination has a hard time wrapping around really big numbers and really big sizes. But let’s try.

Imagine an iceberg that is one cubic mile in size: a mile high, wide and deep. It’s an almost unimaginably huge chunk of ice, and it weighs a little more than 3.8 billion metric tons. For scale, the very large iceberg in the photo, according to ship’s radar, was about 350 feet high.

147,197,952,000 cubic feet
57 pounds per cubic foot of ice
8,419,722,854,400 pounds
2,205 pounds per metric ton
3,819,161,233 metric tons

In Antarctica, on an annual basis, more than almost three such gigantic icebergs are melting each and every month. Each year, Antarctica suffers a net ice loss of 134 billion metric tons (paywall). That’s 11.2 billion metric tons a month. That’s 2.9 icebergs a cubic mile in size.

And the rate of melting is increasing. Between 1992 and 2013, the melt rate increased each year by about 6.1 billion metric tons. But if you look at the average ice loss for the period 2009-2011, it’s up to an increase of about 16 billion metric tons every year. An additional three gigantic, cubic mile icebergs are melting each year.

That’s why Antarctica alone is contributing an average of 0.45mm to the global rise in sea level. That doesn’t sound like much, but remember that 70.8% of the earth is covered by ocean. That’s 139,397,000 square miles. Across such a vast hydrosphere, that’s an immense amount of water. Raising that much ocean even half a millimeter is astonishing.

And remember the rate of melt is accelerating. Not just the sea level; the rate of rise in sea level is increasing each year.

Got all that? Now imagine someone who can deny that cubic miles of ice are disappearing. Imagine someone who can refuse to admit that entire cubic miles of ice are melting. Nearly impossible, eh? All right, now imagine that person is a U.S. Senator.

WC has a vivid imagination, and considerable capacity for empathy. But WC’s mind boggles. It’s like trying to follow the reasoning of a schizophrenic. Except it’s a U.S. Senator.

It’s impossible to overstate how worried WC is for the future of our planet.


One thought on “134 Billion Metric Tons Per Year

  1. “So?!”, the willfully ignorant herd retorted. “We got technologies… we survived global floods before… this time we can do it while creating new jobs!”

    “But Grasshoppers!”, tweeted an Anthropocene prince, “In this chapter we will be fighting each other while navigating”

    “fire AND brimstone from the collapsing water cycle–we MUST have food to consume OIL! Alas, only those with “money” can purchase tickets”

    “to ride the ark. As an aside, food and fresh water will be served–but only to the highest bidders–and–you’ll need”

    “a partner–a corporate sponsor–Koch Membrane Systems is my pick. Subjugate joyfully to your gifts! And remember”

    “Grasshoppers, unless you are three degrees removed or less from the CEOs your fee will only buy you a ticket for the”

    “steerage lottery.”

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