What Is a Glacier?
What Is a Glacier?
It’s mind-boggling (and a bit scary) to consider that while most of our planet’s surface is covered with water, only about 2–3% of this water is actually freshwater—that is, water that we can drink. That means that most of the world’s water (about 98%) is of no use for human consumption or for agriculture. But perhaps a more startling statistic that few actually realize is that of this minuscule percentage of water that is actually apt for consumption, three-fourths of it is packed away in dense millenary ice located in the polar ice caps; this is water that we will probably never see in fresh liquid form. Except for documentaries we see occasionally on television about fearsome adventurers who traveled to Antarctica or to the ice sheets of the North Pole, most of us have never ventured (and probably never will) to the North or South Pole where this ice is located. These are rather inhospitable places of our planet that we could only tolerate on extremely nice days and only for a few days at best, if we were ever able to get there at all. We hear about the polar caps melting due to climate change. We see images of penguins in the Southern Hemisphere or polar bears in the north suffering from a warming climate, and we even see entertaining animated movies about these obscure and rapidly changing environments and how odd creatures adapt or succumb to these changes. We hear from many media sources, from scientists and from environmentalists, that enormous ice masses at the poles are melting fast and breaking away into our oceans. James Balog, a photographer and cryoactivist, recently produced a documentary film called Chasing Ice, which incredibly captured the calving (the collapse) of a chunk of glacier ice half the size of Manhattan Island, breaking off from the Ilulissat Glacier and rolling into gelid waters off Greenland. Pieces of glacier ice more than 200 meters (650 ft) tall—as tall as skyscrapers—suddenly sank, vanished, resurfaced, and bounced around in the water as this colossal glacier crumbled into the sea. Since then, much larger calvings have been reported around the world.
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