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NOAA Suomi-NPP/University of Oxford/Simon Proud
NOAA Suomi-NPP/University of Oxford/Simon Proud

As Predicted, a Massive Iceberg Just Broke Off in Antarctica

NOAA Suomi-NPP/University of Oxford/Simon Proud
NOAA Suomi-NPP/University of Oxford/Simon Proud

Well, it finally happened. As Mental Floss reported last week, the last few decades have seen dramatic changes to the Larsen ice shelf, most recently with a growing rift along the section called Larsen C threatening to entirely break off. This week, it finally split, creating an iceberg the size of Delaware. At more than a trillion tons, it's one of the largest icebergs ever recorded.

The sections called Larsen A and B collapsed in 1995 and 2002, respectively, effectively reshaping the coastline of the Antarctic Peninsula.

The Larsen C crack spread slowly—you might say glacially—at first. But by June 2017, it was cruising right along, widening at a pace of about 32 feet per day. Experts at Swansea University’s Project Midas, which monitors the ice shelf, predicted the break would come within "hours, days, or weeks."

It took about a week. New imagery from NASA’s Suomi National Polar-orbiting Partnership (NPP) satellite shows a distinct split in the ice shelf.

"The rift was barely visible in these data in recent weeks," Adrian Luckman of Swansea University told the BBC, "but the signature is so clear now that it must have opened considerably along its whole length."

The precise cause of the split remains to be seen. While climate change is responsible for melting sea ice around the world, experts say this particular break may have been inevitable.

"We know that rifts like this periodically propagate and cause large tabular icebergs to break from ice shelves, even in the absence of any climate-driven changes," Chris Borstad, of the University Centre in Svalbard, told the BBC. "I am working with a number of colleagues to design field experiments on Larsen C to answer this specific question (by measuring the properties of the Joerg suture zone directly). But until we get down there and take some more measurements, we can only speculate."

[h/t BBC]

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Michael Gottschalk, AFP/Getty Images
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environment
Germany Wants to Fight Air Pollution With Free Public Transit
Michael Gottschalk, AFP/Getty Images
Michael Gottschalk, AFP/Getty Images

Getting people out of their cars is an essential part of combating climate change. By one estimate, getting people to ditch their two-car household for just one car and a public transit commute could save up to 30 percent in carbon dioxide emissions [PDF]. But how do you convince commuters to take the train or the bus? In Germany, the answer may be making all public transit free, according to The Local.

According to a letter from three of Germany's government ministers to the European Union Environment Commissioner, in 2018, Germany will test free public transit in five western German cities, including Bonn. Germany has failed to meet EU air pollution limits for several years, and has been warned that it could face heavy fines if the country doesn't clean up its air. In a report from 2017, the European Environment Agency estimated that 80,767 premature deaths in Germany in 2014 were due to air pollution.

City officials in the regions where free transport will be tested say there may be some difficulty getting ahold of enough electric buses to support the increase in ridership, though, and their systems will likely need more trains and bus lines to make the plan work.

Germany isn't the first to test out free public transportation, though it may be the first to do it on a nation-wide level. The Estonian capital of Tallinn tried in 2013, with less-than-stellar results. Ridership didn't surge as high as expected—one study found that the elimination of fares only resulted in a 1.2 percent increase in demand for service. And that doesn't necessarily mean that those new riders were jumping out of their cars, since those who would otherwise bike or walk might take the opportunity to hop on the bus more often if they don't have to load a transit card.

Transportation isn't prohibitively expensive in Germany, and Germans already ride public transit at much higher rates than people do in the U.S. In Berlin, it costs about $4 a ride—more expensive than a ride in Paris or Madrid but about what you'd pay in Geneva, and cheaper than the lowest fare in London. And there are already discounts for kids, students, and the elderly. While that doesn't necessarily mean making public transit free isn't worth it, it does mean that eliminating fares might not make the huge dent in car emissions that the government hopes it will.

What could bring in more riders? Improving existing service. According to research on transportation ridership, doing things like improving waits and transfer times bring in far more new riders than reducing fares. As one study puts it, "This seldom happens, however, since transport managers often cannot resist the idea of reducing passenger fares even though the practice is known to have less impact on ridership."

The same study notes that increasing the prices of other modes of transit (say, making road tolls and parking fees higher to make driving the more expensive choice) is a more effective way of forcing people out of their cars and onto trains and buses. But that tends to be more unpopular than just giving people free bus passes.

[h/t The Local]

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WWF
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Animals
Watch an Antarctic Minke Whale Feed in a First-of-Its-Kind Video
WWF
WWF

New research from the World Wildlife Fund is giving us a rare glimpse into the world of the mysterious minke whale. The WWF worked with Australian Antarctic researchers to tag minke whales with cameras for the first time, watching where and how the animals feed.

The camera attaches to the whale's body with suction cups. In the case of the video below, the camera accidentally slid down the side of the minke whale's body, providing an unexpected look at the way its throat moves as it feeds.

Minke whales are one of the smallest baleen whales, but they're still pretty substantial animals, growing 30 to 35 feet long and weighing up to 20,000 pounds. Unlike other baleen whales, though, they're small enough to maneuver in tight spaces like within sea ice, a helpful adaptation for living in Antarctic waters. They feed by lunging through the sea, gulping huge amounts of water along with krill and small fish, and then filtering the mix through their baleen.

The WWF video shows just how quickly the minke can process this treat-laden water. The whale could lunge, process, and lunge again every 10 seconds. "He was like a Pac-Man continuously feeding," Ari Friedlaender, the lead scientist on the project, described in a press statement.

The video research, conducted under the International Whaling Commission's Southern Ocean Research Partnership, is part of WWF's efforts to protect critical feeding areas for whales in the region.

If that's not enough whale for you, you can also watch the full 13-minute research video below:

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