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Means of Extinction: Antarctic “Super Vortex” is Accelerating

Means of Extinction: Antarctic “Super Vortex” is Accelerating

From the Daily Mail in the UK comes an article titled Antarctica ‘super vortex’ is speeding up due to climate change – and it could melt thousands of square miles of sea ice, study reveals. The article was published on 27 March 2024. More sensationalist headlines appear in other outlets. From the Daily Star on 4 April 2024 is Antarctica ‘super vortex’ could put mankind underwater like an ‘apocalyptic film.’ From LAD Bible dot com on 1 April 2024 is Urgent warning over Antarctic ‘super vortex’ that could affect fate of humanity. In addition to serving as click-bait, these headlines might be more accurate than the one in the Daily Mail. Corporate media outlets tend to avoid articles about human extinction.

The story in the Daily Mail refers to a peer-reviewed, open-access paper in Nature. Here’s the lede from the article in the Daily Mail: “A massive vortex of ocean water encircling Antarctica, a swirling volume 100-times larger than all the world’s rivers combined, is getting faster due to  climate change.”

The vortex is known as the Antarctic Circumpolar Current. It slows during Earth’s cool periods, such as during Ice Ages. It hastens when the planet warms. Considering we are undergoing the fastest rate of environmental change in planetary history, according even to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in its 8 October 2018 report Global Warming of 1.5 Degrees, it comes as no surprise that the Antarctic Circumpolar Current represents a threat leading to the extinction of all life on Earth.

The article in the Daily Mail begins with three key points: (1) Antarctic Circumpolar Current churns 6 billion cubic-feet of water per second; (2) the vortex slows during cool eras, like the Ice Age, but speeds up with global warming; and (3) researchers drilled 500- to 650-ft-long deep sea sediment cores for the study.

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Ecological Disruption and Militarization of Antarctica Will Push the Planet Closer to Tipping Points

Antarctica, a continent about 40% larger than Europe in area, has also been called the world’s largest desert and the coldest, windiest, loneliest continent. Such descriptions do not exactly make this the most attractive continent, but in keeping with our times, those looking for minerals and geo-strategic advantages can find their own allurements.

So far this continent has been among the relatively better managed places in the world, but this can change rapidly with the increasingly emerging fearful possibilities of ecological disruption and even militarization.

If such a drift takes place, this will be a tragedy much beyond this continent as Antarctica has a very important role in protecting the badly endangered ecology of the entire planet.

The vast ice sheets which cover this continent almost entirely make an important contribution in maintaining heat balance by naturally deflecting sun rays, and this has an increasingly more protective role for earth. This continent contributes also by maintaining the water circulation system.

The glaciers here are estimated to have 70 per cent of the freshwater supply of the world.

This is a habitat for many species which are found only here, and some of the species found here, such as the larger whales, have important protective roles on their own.

Although best known for its many species of penguins and seals, Antarctica is also home to its unique krills which provide food for many species apart from playing other ecologically important roles.

Although ecologists have been warning against increasing dangers of plastics, other pollutants and above all invasive species being introduced here in recent times as well as the threat posed by destructive fishing practices, on the whole the continent has been reasonably well protected so far in terms of any locally caused ruin…

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Emperor penguins perish as ice melts to new lows: study

Emperor penguins perish as ice melts to new lows: study

Paris (AFP) – Colonies of emperor penguin chicks were wiped out last year as global warming eroded their icy homes, a study published Thursday found, despite the birds’ attempts to adapt to the shrinking landscape.

The study by the British Antarctic Survey found that record-low sea ice levels in 2023 contributed to the second-worst year for emperor penguin chick mortality since observations began in 2018
The study by the British Antarctic Survey found that record-low sea ice levels in 2023 contributed to the second-worst year for emperor penguin chick mortality since observations began in 2018 © SARAH DAWALIBI / AFP/File

The study by the British Antarctic Survey found that record-low sea ice levels in 2023 contributed to the second-worst year for emperor penguin chick mortality since observations began in 2018.

It follows a “catastrophic breeding failure” in 2022, signalling long-term implications for the population, the study’s author Peter Fretwell told AFP.

Emperor penguins breed on sea-ice platforms, with chicks hatching in the winter between late July and mid-August.

The chicks are reared until they develop waterproof feathers, typically in December ahead of the summer melt.

But if the ice melts too early, the chicks risk drowning and freezing.

Fourteen of 66 penguin colonies, which can each produce several hundred to several thousand chicks in a year, were affected by early sea-ice loss in 2023, said the study published in the Journal of Antarctic Science.

The result is “high if not total levels of mortality”, Fretwell said.

Yet 2023 “wasn’t as bad as we feared”, he said.

A record 19 colonies were affected the year before.

On the move

The study also found that several colonies, particularly those ravaged the previous year, had moved in search of better conditions onto icebergs, ice shelves or more stable sea ice.

While such moves offer a hopeful sign that the birds can adapt to the changing environment, Fretwell warned it was a “temporary solution”.

“Penguins are limited in the amount of adaptation they can do. There are only so many places they can go,” he said.

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‘We were in disbelief’: Antarctica is behaving in a way we’ve never seen before. Can it recover?

‘We were in disbelief’: Antarctica is behaving in a way we’ve never seen before. Can it recover?

Deception Island, Antarctica.

A small boat glides around patches of sea ice in the water off Deception Island in Antarctica. Sea ice in the region grows from a minimum in summer to a maximum in winter, but in the last several years, the sea ice extent has been shrinking in summer. (Image credit: karenfoleyphotography / Alamy Stock Photo)

Look out over Antarctica in the summer, and time seems frozen. The South Pole’s midnight sun appears to hover in place, never dropping below the horizon for weeks between November and January.

But the Antarctic’s timelessness is an illusion. Only a decade ago, on summer nights across the coast, the sun would glide ever so slightly over the ocean, dusting its ice floes in golden light.

Yet today, much of this sea ice is nowhere in sight. And scientists are increasingly alarmed that it may never come back.

Antarctica feels very distant, but the sea ice there matters so much to all of us,” Ella Gilbert, a polar climate scientist at the British Antarctic Survey, told Live Science. “It’s a really vital part of our climate system.”

Until recently, Antarctic sea ice fluctuated between relatively stable summer minimums and winter maximums. But after a record minimum in 2016, things began to shift. Two record lows soon followed, including the smallest minimum ever in February 2023 at just 737,000 square miles (1.91 million square kilometers).

As winter began in March of that year, scientists hoped the ice cover would rebound. But what happened instead astonished them: Antarctic ice experienced six months of record lows. At winter’s peak in July, the continent was missing a chunk of ice bigger than Western Europe.

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Polar plastic: 97% of sampled Antarctic seabirds found to have ingested microplastics

Polar plastic: 97% of sampled Antarctic seabirds found to have ingested microplastics

Polar plastic: 97% of sampled Antarctic seabirds found to have ingested microplastics
Global distribution of study sites and relative 13 species considered (red dots = Arctic sites; red line = Arctic species and samples; yellow dots = Antarctica sites; yellow line = Antarctica species and samples). For each species, the matrices analyzed are shown in a dot near the species’ picture. The articles considered analyzed pellets, stomach contents, pouch contents, and guano. The number of samples considered for each matrix is presented on the bottom, separated for the Arctic (red line) and Antarctica (yellow line). Credit: Frontiers in Marine Science (2024). DOI: 10.3389/fmars.2024.1343617

Anthropogenic plastic pollution is often experienced through evocative images of marine animals caught in floating debris, yet its reach is far more expansive. The polar regions of the Arctic and Antarctica are increasingly experiencing the impacts of plastic reaching floating ice and land, not solely as larger macroplastics (>5 cm), but as microplastics (0.1 µm—5 mm) and nanoplastics (<0.1 µm) that may be carried vast distances from their source or be ingested in more populated areas during seasonal migration.

A new review, published in Frontiers in Marine Science, has investigated the scale of this issue, particularly with respect to seabirds who call these glaciated regions home.

Ph.D. researcher Davide Taurozzi and Professor Massimiliano Scalici, of Roma Tre University, Italy, embarked on a project to summarize 40 years of research into seabird ingestion of microplastics, from 1983 to the present day.

Across >1,100 samples, the researchers explored stomach contents, crop pouch near the throat for temporary food storage during foraging trips, guano (excrement mixture of food and metabolic waste) and regurgitated pellets of undigested food and other particles. Pellets formed the main component of the samples, followed by stomach contents and guano, while pouch contents were minimally present.

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‘The Fuse Has Been Blown,’ and the Doomsday Glacier Is Coming for Us All

‘The Fuse Has Been Blown,’ and the Doomsday Glacier Is Coming for Us All

New data suggests a massive collapse of the ice shelf in as little as five years. “We are dealing with an event that no human has ever witnessed,” says one scientist. “We have no analog for this”

Thwaites Glacier

Thwaites Glacier

One thing that’s hard to grasp about the climate crisis is that big changes can happen fast. In 2019, I was aboard the Nathaniel B. Palmer, a 308-foot-long scientific research vessel, cruising in front of the Thwaites Glacier in Antarctica. One day, we were sailing in clear seas in front of the glacier. The next day, we were surrounded by icebergs the size of aircraft carriers.

As we later learned from satellite images, in a matter of 48 hours or so, a mélange of ice about 21 miles wide and 15 miles deep had cracked up and scattered into the sea.

It was a spooky moment. Thwaites Glacier is the size of Florida. It is the cork in the bottle of the entire West Antarctic ice sheet, which contains enough ice to raise sea levels by 10 feet. The mélange that disintegrated was not part of the glacier itself, but a mix of icebergs and sea ice that had cozied up next to it. Still, the idea that it could just fall apart overnight was mind-blowing.

The Nathaniel Palmer exploring Thwaites

The research vessel ‘Nathaniel B. Palmer’ was surrounded overnight by icebergs while exploring the Thwaites Glacier in 2019. Alex Mazur

As it turns out, the ice breakup I witnessed was not a freak event. A few weeks ago, scientists participating in the International Thwaites Glacier Collaboration, a $25 million five-year-long joint research program between the National Science Foundation in the U.S. and the Natural Environment Research Council in the U.K., presented their latest research…

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Scientists watch giant ‘doomsday’ glacier in Antarctica with concern

Cracks and fissures stoke fears of breakup that could lead to half-metre rise in global sea levels – or more

Satellite view of Antarctica with the Thwaites glacier marked in red.
Satellite view of Antarctica with the Thwaites glacier marked in red. Photograph: UniversalImagesGroup/UIG/Getty Images

Twenty years ago, an area of ice thought to weigh almost 500bn tonnes dramatically broke off the Antarctic continent and shattered into thousands of icebergs into the Weddell Sea.

The 1,255-sq-mile (3,250-sq-km) Larsen B ice shelf was known to be melting fast but no one had predicted that it would take just one month for the 200-metre-thick behemoth to completely disintegrate.

Glaciologists were shocked as much by the speed as by the scale of the collapse. “This is staggering. It’s just broken apart. It fell over like a wall and has broken as if into hundreds of thousands of bricks”, said one.

This week, ice scientists meeting in New Orleans warned that something even more alarming was brewing on the West Antarctic ice sheet – a vast basin of ice on the Antarctic peninsula. Years of research by teams of British and American researchers showed that great cracks and fissures had opened up both on top of and underneath the Thwaites glacier, one of the biggest in the world, and it was feared that parts of it, too, may fracture and collapse possibly within five years or less.

Thwaites makes Larsen B look like an icicle. It is roughly 100 times larger, about the size of Britain, and contains enough water on its own to raise sea levels worldwide by more than half a metre. It contributes about 4% of annual global sea level rise and has been called the most important glacier in the world, even the “doomsday” glacier. Satellite studies show it is melting far faster than it did in the 1990s.

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Doomsday postponed? What to take from the big new Antarctica studies


Doomsday postponed? What to take from the big new Antarctica studies

There’s grim, mixed news out about Antarctica.

Two new papers on melting Antarctic ice come just days after NASA scientists announced the discovery of a massive subterranean hole in West Antarctica’s Thwaites Glacier, the Florida-sized hunk of ice which alone could unleash more than two feet of sea-level rise should it collapse.

One study found that all this melting could have surprising and profound impacts on weather while the other (controversial) study scaled back previous Doomsday estimates. Still, the takeaway from both studies is clear: If we keep on our current path, things could go downhill for humanity very, very quickly.

The worst-case scenario that’s emerging is shockingly bad

In the first paper, an international team of researchers examined the impacts of melting ice on global ocean circulation and weather patterns.

As relatively cool, salt-free meltwater spreads from Antarctica and Greenland across the world’s oceans, it will have dire impacts: The circulation of the Atlantic Ocean will slow, changing how the planet distributes heat, and prompting “a complex pattern of atmospheric and oceanic changes” worldwide, according to the paper.

Weather would worsen almost everywhere, with year-to-year swings in temperature and precipitation increasing in severity by more than 50 percent, especially in eastern North America.

New Zealand and Iceland may warm at a much slower rate than the rest of the world, but ice melt at both poles may actually quicken as heat from the rapidly warming tropical oceans is shunted below the surface where it can stay for hundreds of years. Sub-surface ocean currents would then be able to eat away at the undersides of polar glaciers even more quickly.

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Permafrost thaws as global warming sets in

Permafrost thaws as global warming sets in

Stone circles caused by permafrost on the Norwegian archipelago of  Svalbard. Image: By Hannes Grobe, via Wikimedia Commons  

Global warming is at work far below the surface, at depths seemingly insulated from the greenhouse effect. This is bad news for the permafrost.

LONDON, 29 January, 2019 – Even in the coldest places – 10 metres below the surface of the polar wastes – global warming has begun to work. A new study of the frozen soils in both hemispheres shows that between 2007 and 2016, they warmed by an average of 0.3°C.

This remained true within the Arctic and Antarctic zones, in the highest mountain regions of Europe and Asia, and even in the Siberian tundra, where the temperatures at depth rose by almost a whole degree.

New research into the permafrost, defined as territory where soil has been frozen for at least two consecutive years, suggests that much of it may not be permanently frozen for much longer.

Climate scientists have repeatedly warned that along with the tilth, clays and sediments the icy structures store vast amounts of carbon in the form of yet-to-be-decomposed plant material.

So the thawing permafrost could surrender even more warming agents in the form of greenhouse gases, and accelerate global warming even further.

“The permafrost isn’t simply warming on a local and regional scale, but worldwide and at virtually the same pace as climate warming”

Researchers based in Potsdam, Germany report in the journal Nature Communications that they and colleagues in the Global Terrestrial Network for Permafrost monitored and measured soil temperatures in boreholes at 154 locations; more than 120 of them over a 10-year cycle. In a dozen locations the temperatures actually fell, and at 40 locations there was virtually no change.

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China Boosts Antarctic Presence With Planned Permanent Airbase, Cites “Strategic Needs”

China is set to significantly expand its presence in Antarctica as it takes the crucial step of establishing its first permanent airport and large landing strip close to its small research outpost, Zhongshan station. After nearly a decade of planning construction of the airport is set to begin in November, which state media and officials are calling a “permanent” base.

Notably, according to Chinese state-run Xinhua News Agency the airfield will support China’s Antarctic “strategy needs” and protect China’s right to speak on “Antarctic airspace control”.

Ceremonial groundbreaking at new Chinese Antarctic airport, via state media

The precise location is near the Zhongshan Research Station, which opened in 1989 and is one of two such research outposts, on the east Antarctic coast near the Larsemann Hills, and the project will be overseen by the official Polar Research Institute of China. Chinese media reports details that the airport is to be constructed at a spot about 28 km away from Zhongshan, with a sizable runway at 1,500m long and 80m wide. It is to primarily serve scientists and staff working in the isolated region.

However, it’s no doubt already gotten the attention of American military planners and China observers as it began making headlines Monday, especially after last month Beijing rolled out with its first domestically built icebreaker, this also following  the Chinese government  releasing “China’s Arctic Policy” in early 2018  a white paper outlining how China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) will construct infrastructure projects along the northern Arctic routes, and urged its largest shipping companies to conduct trial voyages through the frigid waters.

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Antarctic melt accelerates sea level rise

Antarctic melt accelerates sea level rise

While renewable energy is on a roll—setting records in Europe over the last few months[1], and racking up impressive numbers in capacity buildout in 2017 [2], it’s easy to forget what is happening behind the scenes.

Extreme weather gets all the headlines: the wild fires in Canada and Sweden [3], the flooding in Japan, the heatwaves in Canada and the US. But what are called the slow onset climate change events are inexorably moving forward.

Think or swim

Let’s start with sea level. The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) recently published a report called  Underwater, which examined more closely the impact of future sea level rise on coastal cities in the US.  The UCS took as their baseline that global mean sea levels would rise about 2 meters between 2010 and the end of the century—a projection judged as being very likely in several reports published last year.[4]

The UCS report looked at the impact on coastal communities of chronic inundation due to sea level rise—defined as a zone experiencing at least 26 floods a year.  By the end of the century, the UCS analysis shows that as many as 2.4 million of today’s residential properties and about 107,000 commercial properties, worth roughly $1.07 trillion, would be at risk of chronic flooding.[5]

As several million American coastal residents are forced to move inland, coastal property values collapse. The tax base of coastal towns drops catastrophically—resulting in the dramatic reduction in  numerous critical social services and the total impoverishment and eventual abandonment of many coastal communities.

In the US, Florida and New Jersey are most at risk. Over the next 30 years, roughly 64,000 homes in Florida and 62,000 in New Jersey will be at risk of chronic flooding.

These states are just the worst affected, but the whole of the eastern shoreline of the US and the coast of Atlantic Canada are all hugely at risk—particularly the low lying areas of Nova Scotia.

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Sea level rise due to Antarctic ice melt has ‘tripled over past five years’

The rate of sea level rise resulting from the melting of the Antarctic ice sheet has tripled over the past five years, according to new research from a global team of scientists.

The study, published in Nature, finds that ice loss from Antarctica has caused sea levels to rise by 7.6mm from 1992-2017, with two fifths of this increase occurring since 2012.

At a press conference held in London, scientists said the results suggest that Antarctica has become “one of the largest contributors to sea level rise”.

A glaciologist not involved in the paper tells Carbon Brief that the findings show “there now should be no doubt that Antarctica is losing ice due to regional climate change, likely linked to global warming”.

Melting continent

The new research was carried out by a team of scientists from the Ice Sheet Mass Balance Inter-comparison Exercise (IMBIE). The international group was established in 2011 with the aim of creating a comprehensive view of how melting in world’s polar regions could be contributing to sea level rise.

In its last assessment report, released in 2012, it found that ice melt in Antarctica was causing global sea levels to rise by 0.2mm a year. (Over the past two decades, global sea levels have risen around 3.2mm a year in total.)

However, the new analysis finds that Antarctic ice melt is now driving sea level rise of 0.6mm a year – suggesting that the rate of melting has increased three-fold in just five years.

The results show that Antarctic ice melt has become “one of the largest contributors to sea level rise”, says Prof Andrew Shepherd, co-leader of IMBIE and director of the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) Centre for Polar Observation and Modelling based at the University of Leeds.

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Myth and dystopia in the Anthropocene

Myth and dystopia in the Anthropocene

The sleeping ice giants of Antarctica are stirring. Will we wake up before they devour us?

Calving front of the Perito Moreno Glacier in Argentina. Credit: Flickr/Etienne Berthier, Université de Toulouse. CC-BY-2.0.

In the autumn of 1913, Karl Jung dreamt of a monstrous flood of yellow waves cascading down from the North Sea through north-west Europe and down onto the Alps. Later in his apocalyptic dream-vision the swirling yellow seas turned blood red amidst “the floating rubble of civilisation, and the drowned bodies of uncounted thousands.”

Nine months later Jung had a similarly dramatic dream, but this time with a different emphasis: “An Arctic cold wave descended and froze the land to ice…The whole of Lorraine and its canals frozen and the entire region totally deserted by human beings.”

I thought of Jung’s pre-World War One visions when I read of the stirring of the sleeping ice giants of East Antarctica earlier this year. According to recent research, one of those glaciers—the Totten (larger than the state of California)—is moving slowly towards the Southern Ocean as a result of global warming, with the potential  to raise sea levels by 3.5 metres in future decades.

This figure is a worst case scenario, but a sea level rise of even a fraction of that figure could lead to extraordinarily worrying outcomes. In the case of the Totten glacier, warm ocean water is seeping up from the bottom of the sea into the cavity beneath this vast ice giant, which could destabilise the surrounding ice sheet even further. That’s important because East Antarctica has long been regarded as more stable than West Antarctica in terms of its melting ice.

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Antarctic Volcano Warning: Ash Could ‘Encircle The Globe’ Causing Worldwide Health Problems

Antarctic Volcano Warning: Ash Could ‘Encircle The Globe’ Causing Worldwide Health Problems


Scientists are sounding the alarm about a volcano eruption in Antartica that could cause global health problems. The ash from this eruption could encircle the globe, affecting millions of people.

Deception Island, off the coast of the Antarctic Peninsula, is a hotbed of volcanic activity with at least 50 craters spread across the region. A recent study done in the area by scientists has found evidence that an eruption on the island could disrupt air traffic on continents in the Southern Hemisphere, including South America and Africa. It could also cause some major health concerns for the whole globe.

The findings of the research show that Antarctica’s volcanoes can have an effect across the world, says Charles Connor, a geoscientist at the University of South Florida in Tampa not involved in the research. “We have to reassess the potential hazards for global transportation networks posed by even these remote volcanoes.”

Ash emitted during explosive volcanic eruptions may disperse over vast areas of the globe posing a threat to human health and infrastructures and causing significant disruption to air traffic,” scientists warned in their report.  “Volcanic ash emitted from Antarctic volcanoes could potentially encircle the globe, leading to significant consequences for global aviation safety.”

The study revealed the “significant consequences to global aviation” after reviewing computer models of ash flows from different types of eruption during different seasons. The research is the first of its kind investigating the horrifying impact of ash from an Antarctic volcano on the rest of the word. “No attention has been paid to the potential socio-economic and environmental consequences of an ash-forming eruption occurring at high southern latitudes,” the study declared.

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Ice Apocalypse

Ice Apocalypse

Rapid collapse of Antarctic glaciers could flood coastal cities by the end of this century.

In a remote region of Antarctica known as Pine Island Bay, 2,500 miles from the tip of South America, two glaciers hold human civilization hostage.

Stretching across a frozen plain more than 150 miles long, these glaciers, named Pine Island and Thwaites, have marched steadily for millennia toward the Amundsen Sea, part of the vast Southern Ocean. Further inland, the glaciers widen into a two-mile-thick reserve of ice covering an area the size of Texas.

There’s no doubt this ice will melt as the world warms. The vital question is when.

The glaciers of Pine Island Bay are two of the largest and fastest-melting in Antarctica. (A Rolling Stone feature earlier this year dubbed Thwaites “The Doomsday Glacier.”) Together, they act as a plug holding back enough ice to pour 11 feet of sea-level rise into the world’s oceans — an amount that would submerge every coastal city on the planet. For that reason, finding out how fast these glaciers will collapse is one of the most important scientific questions in the world today.

To figure that out, scientists have been looking back to the end of the last ice age, about 11,000 years ago, when global temperatures stood at roughly their current levels. The bad news? There’s growing evidence that the Pine Island Bay glaciers collapsed rapidly back then, flooding the world’s coastlines — partially the result of something called “marine ice-cliff instability.”

The ocean floor gets deeper toward the center of this part of Antarctica, so each new iceberg that breaks away exposes taller and taller cliffs. Ice gets so heavy that these taller cliffs can’t support their own weight. Once they start to crumble, the destruction would be unstoppable.

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Olduvai IV: Courage
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Olduvai II: Exodus
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