The ice sheets that blanket Antarctica and Greenland are melting faster, and that fact is a source of concern and intense study by climate researchers.
But only recently has the scientific community begun to examine how icebergs affect the global climate.
Climate change researchers study three different kinds of ice: land ice – those thick ice sheets across Antarctica and Greenland; sea ice – which is very thin and sits on top of the ocean; and icebergs – which form by flowing off the land ice over a very long period of time.
Till Wagner, an Ice and Climate Physicist at the University of North Carolina Wilmington, received a National Science Foundation grant to lead a multi-institutional team that looks at how icebergs factor into climate change.
"The way that we try and project the future of climate is by modeling it with computer simulations. And as our computers have become more and more powerful, we can incorporate more and more detail."
Icebergs are one of those details because some are so large, they carry their own micro-climate. B-15, says Wagner, broke off the Ross Ice Shelf in Antarctica in 2000 – and back then, it was about the size of Delaware.
"It’s very cold and it carries a lot of fresh water. So, as these icebergs drift away from the Antarctic Continent, as they melt and inject all that fresh water into the salty ocean background, they have profound impacts on the ecosystem. And we don’t really understand very well yet, what, exactly, those effects are."
As to whether there is scientific debate over the existence of global warming, Till Wagner says, no, it’s not a political question or answer, and yes, people ask it.
"It’s not really the right question. Do I believe in gravity?"
This was part of a recent discussion on CoastLine – which you can find here: