Before and after satellite images of the Glenzer-Conger Ice Shelf from EU/Copernicus Sentinel-2 satellite.

The media was full of disaster headlines this week over an observed breakup of a minor and little-known Antarctic ice shelf. Yahoo News and the New York Times, among others, lamented the “unprecedented” event. The problem is, we don’t really have any knowledge of previous events, making the present day claims false by omission.

David Knowles, the lead climate worrier for Yahoo News wrote in Antarctic ice shelf the size of New York City collapses:

For the first time in human history, an ice shelf in East Antarctica has collapsed, scientists said Friday, as climate change shows no signs of slowing.

The collapse of the 463-square-mile Glenzer Conger ice shelf, which occurred last week, came as temperatures rose in the eastern section of Antarctica by as much as 70 degrees Fahrenheit above normal. That was enough in some places for rain, rather than snow, to fall, the Associated Press reported.

NASA satellites first detected the collapse of the ice shelf.

The New York Times headline of was a bit more muted, but still claimed it to be a “first”: In a First, an Ice Shelf Collapses in East Antarctica. Writer Henry Fountain said:

For the first time since satellites began observing Antarctica nearly half a century ago, an ice shelf has collapsed on the eastern part of the continent, scientists said.

The collapse of the 450-square-mile Conger ice shelf in a part of the continent called Wilkes Land occurred in mid-March. It was first spotted by scientists with the Australian Bureau of Meteorology and appeared in satellite images taken on March 17, according to the National Ice Center in the United States.

The main point to note is that satellites, not humans in the area, first detected the breakup. The NYT rightly points out that we’ve only had satellite monitoring capability since 1979, just 43 years ago.

Knowles makes this patently unprovable and quite likely false claim: “For the first time in human history, an ice shelf in East Antarctica has collapsed…”

Modern humans, homo sapiens, have been around for at least 300,000 years, living through at least two previous ice ages and interglacial cycles. Proxy data indicates seas were much higher in previous interglacials, indicating Antarctica likely stored much less ice and that large ice sheets broke off and melted during those interglacials, all without any help from human greenhouse gas emissions.

Modern agriculture and civilization date back 6,000 to 10,000 years, but different groups of humans first encountered Antarctica about 650 CE, according to the Encyclopedia Britannica.  Britannica also notes that “European explorers first approached Antarctica in 1520, when Portuguese navigator and explorer Ferdinand Magellan rounded South America during his journey to circumnavigate the world. In the 18th century, British naval officer James Cook and others explored the sub-Antarctic region; Cook circumnavigated the globe in high southern latitudes between 1772 and 1775, proving that Terra Australis, if it existed at all, lay somewhere beyond the ice packs that he discovered between about 60° and 70° S. “

And importantly, history shows real exploration and records only began just over 100 years ago. In 1901 Captain Robert Falcon Scott led his first expedition to the Antarctic in the specially built ship Discovery. Following that, Ernest Shackleton led the second British Antarctic Expedition on the Nimrod. On January 9, 1909, Shackleton, Frank Wild, Eric Marshall and Jameson Adams come within 97 miles of the South Pole.

It wasn’t until December 15, 1911 that Roald Amundsen became the first person to reach the South Pole.

The point here is that we have just over 100 years of records in Antarctica, and most of it sparse and over a small area, and we have only 43 years of satellite records. Meanwhile, in the Yahoo News article there is this:

“The Glenzer-Conger ice shelf presumably had been there for thousands of years, and it’s not ever going to be there again,” University of Minnesota ice scientist Peter Neff told the AP.

Combine that with: “For the first time in human history, an ice shelf in East Antarctica has collapsed…”

Wow, what hubris. We simply don’t know that it’s been there intact “for thousands of years”, or that it will never be again. We have no records back that far and no verifiable projections into the future. Human history is a lot longer than our history with Antarctica, much less the period of time humans have been continuously monitoring the expansion and retreat of the still largely unexplored continents glaciers and ice shelves.

We have 100+ years of sparse exploration records, and 43 years of satellite records, and from that we get unverifiable claims from scientists who should know better, along with “journalists” that can’t seem to do simple, basic research into Antarctic history. And even in the 100+ years of exploration records, would there have been an expedition to East Antarctica that would have observed a breakup if it happened before? And, if there was, from their perspective at sea-level or slightly above on the ice cap itself, could they even delineate that the entire ice shelf broke up compared to the normal jumble of sea ice that happens in the Antarctic fall season?

The answer is no. We can only observe this breakup because of satellites, a recent invention in human history. Who can say that it hasn’t happened before? In reality if it did, there was nobody there and no way to observe it.

Another salient point is that in both articles the universal boogeyman of “climate change” was brought up as a cause. Here are relevant quotes:

“Ice-shelf loss is a major concern in West Antarctica, where warming related to climate change is having a greater effect than in the east.”

“…the revelation that ice in the eastern section of the continent is also at risk of collapse due to climate change is worrisome.”

In the NYT article, weather events are blamed:

In mid-March an atmospheric river, a plume of air heavy with water vapor, swept into East Antarctica from the ocean to the north. It resulted in record-setting warmth in some locations, with temperatures as much as 70 degrees Fahrenheit higher than normal for this time of year.

But even that is in question. As we previously pointed out at Climate Realism, the supposed “70 degrees Fahrenheit higher than normal” on March 18, came from a computer model, and not an actual observation. And further, actual observations at the Amundsen–Scott South Pole Station during that period don’t show anything that would be considered melt-worthy:


It always pays to check the data. Notice the “heat wave” of -56°F on March 18th circled in red. No hard data from the other automated weather stations on the Antarctice ice suggests any “heat wave” either.

The supposed heat wave happened on March 18, yet the sea ice breakup was first observed on March 17, and likely started before that. Journalists can’t even get the blame timeline right. An event that precedes another event can’t be caused by the lagging event.

There has been a lot of unwarranted speculation and handwaving over this minor ice shelf collapse, and there’s certainly no proof it is the “first time in human history” that it has happened. There’s also no evidence that it won’t reform when the season changes.

We should probably heed the meme “Winter Is Coming” from Game of Thrones. Antarctic winter is about to start, beginning on Tuesday, June 21 and ending on Friday, September 23.

During that period the Antarctic sea ice will in fact refreeze just like it does every year. You can be almost certain that if the Glenzer-Conger ice shelf forms again from the fragments and new ice, we won’t see MSM headlines about it because it goes against the “climate change” narrative.

Anthony Watts is a senior fellow for environment and climate at The Heartland Institute. Watts has been in the weather business both in front of, and behind the camera as an on-air television meteorologist since 1978, and currently does daily radio forecasts. He has created weather graphics presentation systems for television, specialized weather instrumentation, as well as co-authored peer-reviewed papers on climate issues. He operates the most viewed website in the world on climate, the award-winning website


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