A hundred years ago, on April 15, 1912, an iceberg brought down the supposedly unsinkable Titanic in the North Atlantic.
If the legendary ship sailed today, it would likely encounter many more icebergs, possibly due to global warming, scientists say.
“It’s a surprising thought that global warming would lead to more icebergs,” said Frank Lowenstein, head of climate-adaptation strategy for the Nature Conservancy.
Earth’s average global temperature has increased by about 1.4 degrees Fahrenheit (0.8 degree Celsius) since 1880, according to NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies. Two-thirds of that warming has happened since 1975.
Those warming air and ocean temperatures may be increasing the rate at which icebergs form, Lowenstein said.
As more ice melts under glaciers and ice sheets—particularly in Greenland and Antarctica—the water lubricates the ice masses, sending them to sea, and eventual breakup, at a faster rate.
“It’s like spraying WD-40 in there,” Lowenstein said. “More icebergs can form, because each glacier is bringing hundreds to thousands of extra tons of ice per year to the ocean.”
Also, warm air can cause water to pool on the ice’s surface. As the liquid sinks into cracks in the ice, the ice can become unstable and eventually split apart altogether.