A 20 square-mile stretch of ice, named the Ellesmere Iceshelf, which drifted down into the Beaufort Sea in June during our particularly hot northern summer, has caused more than US$ 40 million of damage so far.
“That shelf struck our northern-most oil rigs a week ago. It moves at about 5 miles per hour, so there was time to get our men off the rig, but it’s unstoppable,” says Barry Robbins of Shell.
“We’ve got another four rigs south of it right now, and the other oil companies have another 20 or so. We’re talking about a major oil shortage if this thing isn’t stopped.”
In addition, freight ships have been turned back and Canadians are beginning to suffer shortages and price hikes as distribution networks are disrupted.
“Which is why we have formed a joint initiative with the US navy,” says Canadian Prime Minister, Stephen Harper. “It is likely that we will have to detonate the shelf.
“We’re extremely worried, though, that if we get it wrong then we’ll create a large number of smaller icebergs which will have the ability to get everywhere and disrupt a much wider range of shipping.”
The crack which created the monster iceberg is blamed on global warming.
ANALYSIS >> SYNTHESIS: How this scenario came to be
2005-6: The Crack of Warm
In August the slow melting of the ice around Ellesmere Island was jarred by the sudden crack of the largest ice shelf in the Arctic. The Ward Ice Shelf cracked away from its roost of the past 3,000 years and started heading out into the ocean. The shelf began an accelerated break-up in 2000.
The most immediate consequence has been the loss of all of the freshwater from the northern hemisphere’s largest epishelf lake, which had been dammed behind the ice. There was immediate extinction of all the specialized organisms that had developed in that lake as the brackish water entered the sea.
The secondary impact is its danger to shipping in the Beaufort Sea. In the middle of nowhere, unnoticed by everyone, the crack was picked up by satellites and sensors. It isn’t until December 2006 that anyone will take a look. By then a 25-square-mile block of ice is loose in the Arctic.
2007: An Inconvenient Truth
Ex-Vice President Al Gore is awarded the Oscar for best documentary in February 2007 for his work in raising awareness of global warming. The Hollywood congratulations are short-lived. No matter how many Toyota Prius are sold, there is limited impact that they can have on events already in motion. And the Ellesmere Ice-shelf is moving.
In mid-2007, at the height of one of the hottest Northern summers on record, the shelf breaks free of its entrapping ice debris and shrinks sufficiently to drift through the surrounding islands.
“We’re watching its motion on satellite now,” says Ed Carney at NASA, “and its movement is deceptively quick. About two miles a day, and it’s accelerating. We’re warning shipping to be extremely cautious.”
In August, as the ocean cools, Ellesmere comes to a halt, stopped by pack-ice for the winter. The debate is only just beginning.
Thousands of people have watched its progress and George W Bush finds himself in yet another quagmire.
“My fellow Americans, we are considering every option. This latest threat to our way of life constitutes a clear and present danger; it is an Iceberg of Evil,” he says in a nationally televised address.
A task team reports that the only way to remove the threat is to destroy it utterly. “It’s too heavy to tow, and breaking it into smaller pieces increases the danger even more. There are several oil pipelines running out of Russia that could be damaged. If we sprayed oil into that area from destroyed oil rigs and pipes … well, I don’t want to think about that,” says a plainly ruffled Lisa Dimity at the US Environment Protection Agency.
Even environmental organizations like Greenpeace have to admit that the secondary impact to the environment from destruction of oil platforms is significantly worse than global warming. “At least, for the immediate future,” says Häschen Umfassen, one of their spokespersons.
On the positive side, a scientific expedition into previously unexplored sections of the Arctic yields astonishing results. The Polarstern, owned by the Alfred Wegener Institute, visits sections of the polar areas usually blocked off by permanent ice. “We found Arctic fish that have no hemoglobin, so the blood doesn’t freeze. But the fish are permanently blue,” says an excited Johan Gutt of the Alfred Wegener Institute.
2008: Iceberg of Evil
Ellesmere wakes up in March 2008. “It’s way too early,” says a panicked Stan Oberholzer at BP, “we’re not ready!”
Few companies have moved their rigs out of harm’s way. Furious and early Spring storms channel the iceberg at ever greater speeds. “It’s up to four miles an hour now,” says Jim Grant at the US Coast Guard. “We’re working with the Canadians and are attempting to cordon off the area. Most of the danger is for the smaller fishing vessels that may not have GPS and know it’s out there.”
In one frantic night four oil platforms are destroyed. The oil futures market prices a barrel of oil at US$ 92. There is rioting in some cities as prices are passed on to consumers.
A G-8 mini-summit is called. The press aren’t invited but a terse statement is released. “We, the members of the G-8, believe that Ellesmere Iceberg represents a significant threat to the environment and international trade. We have authorized the United States to utilize whatever means are necessary to bring this threat under control.”
“There is only one choice,” says Captain Paul L Callahan of the USS Alaska, an Ohio-class nuclear submarine based in the North. “We have been authorized to target the iceberg with a nuclear device.”
At a taut press conference the message is clear. A specially adapted nuclear missile will be fired at the target. “The nuclear warhead is of a sufficient size that it will vaporize the entire iceberg within seconds.”
Environmentalists worry about nuclear fallout and radio-active rain falling over a wide area.
“Aren’t you grateful that we kept developing weapons technology?” asks a bemused Kingsley Preston at the Pentagon. “We’re using a low-yield earth-penetrating device. Radiation will be no more than you get from a cell-phone. But, definitely, expect rain.”