Friday, September 11, 2009

Moving glaciers

When I was around 7 years old, we took a trip to the Swiss alps and my parents thought it would be a great treat to take the kids to tour a glacier. Unfortunately, my understanding of physics and chemistry, in particular thermodynamics, was just about nil. I decided I'd rather not go into the glacier for fear that it would undergo a catastrophic melting during the span of the tour. So my memory of the trip involves sitting in the car reading a book, although at some point my mom probably convinced me that the area was sufficiently safe to go for a short walk. Until I saw my siblings and dad exit the mouth of the glacier, though, I accepted the possibility that they could be crushed to death and/or drown at any moment.

So you can imagine how horror-stricken I was by the opening of this AP article: "Suddenly and without warning, the gigantic river of ice sped up, causing it to spit icebergs ever faster into the ocean off southeastern Greenland." Even though later text indicates that the glaciers' maximum speed (about four feet an hour) is one that most humans could probably outrun or outcrawl, it turns out they could cause a disaster much worse than an isolated, sudden collapse might.

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