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That is a Huge Amount of Ice

This could qualify as a very interesting thought for the day. Have you ever stopped to consider how much water and ice there are in Antarctica? It is a truly huge amount. In fact, between half and three-quarters of the fresh water in the world is contained in the Antarctic Ice Cap. How much water is that?

Let’s figure it out, shall we? Antarctica and the ice cap covers an area of about 5.4 million square miles. Written out, that is 5,400,000 sq mi (14,000,000 sq km). In some places, that ice is over a mile and a half deep. The total volume of ice in Antarctica is estimated at 6,400,000 cubic miles. A cubic mile is a mile long by a mile wide by a mile high.

That is a lot of ice, but that doesn’t tell us how much water is represented. However, a cubic foot of water holds about seven and a half gallons. A cubic mile is 147,197,952,000 cubic feet (5,280 feet x 5,280 feet x 5,280 feet). That means that a cubic mile of water is about 1,103,984,640,000 gallons. Since the Antarctic ice cap is 6,400,000 cubic miles, it holds roughly 7,065,501,696,000,000,000 gallons. That is over 7 pentillion gallons.

It doesn’t end there. Water expands as it freezes, so a cubic foot of ice holds a little less than 7.5 gallons of fluid water. However, a lot of that ice is under the pressure of millions of tons of ice that is above it, so the difference is slight.

We are also talking about a huge amount of weight. A cubic foot of surface ice weighs about 57 pounds. A cubic mile of ice would weigh about 4,195,141,632 tons. Multiply that times the 6,400,000 representing the total and you’d have the total weight, but four and a fifth billion tons for a single cubic mile of ice is close to the limit of what can be actually imagined.

This also doesn’t count the fact that NASA has found that the Antarctic Ice Cap is growing larger. That really shouldn’t be a surprise. The average temperature in the warmer parts of Antarctica is -50 F. In order for the ice to melt, the temperatures would need to increase by about 82 degrees F. The ice can be eroded by ocean water from beneath, provided that the ocean water is warm enough, but most of Antarctica is a land mass that is covered with ice. The only place where the ocean plays a significant role is where ice flows have covered some of the ocean, and that is a very small percentage of the whole.

Still, even if we disregard the growth of the ice cap, Antarctica still has an incredible amount of ice. That translates to an even more incredible amount of fresh water.

Despite the cold, snow, and ice I see looking out the window, thinking about all of the ice and water in Antarctica makes me feel warm. Maybe that is just me. Either way, this is quite a thought for the day.

What do you think?

9 points

Written by Rex Trulove

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    • All that water, locked up in ice, won’t do us much good, though. The chances of Antarctica warming up by 82 degrees F in even the next 500 years is very slim. Of course, a major meteor impact might do it, but that isn’t very likely, either.

  1. All the more reason for us to do our utmost to keep global warming at bay so that the vast amounts of water you describe remain locked up in polar ice. We know that some of the Antarctic ice shelves are in trouble and are beyond saving, which will lead to an inevitable rise in global sea levels. If the vast bulk of the ice cap was lost, it’s bye-bye to most of the world’s great cities and a lot more besides.

    • very true, but how we can do this protect from global warming? You and I can’t, every one must think about it and do something for it, I request all the people over the world to come forward to stop this global warming problem.

      • Last year was a particularly bad year. Over 9 million acres of forests in Montana, alone, burned up in huge lightning-caused forest fires. The amount of carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, and other carbon compounds released by those forest fires was incredibly enormous. It would have been on the order of 10,000 times more carbon released than from all the activities of man combined last year. For about three weeks, the smoke was so dense locally that it was as if every day was dusk. Visibility was only a few hundred yards many times. I’m hoping that this year they will begin to put in roads again finally, so the firefighters can actually get to the fires before they grow huge, but that will take many years to accomplish. The forest service has been prevented from putting in roads in the forest for over two decades. It is hard to reverse that trend.

        • Rex, I would love to know where you got those figures from for the balance of greenhouse gases released from forest fires set against manmade releases. What assumptions are being made to calculate those figures?

          Something to bear in mind is that even in a severe forest fire, the amount of CO2 (etc) released to the atmosphere is a lot less than that retained by the unburned timber which will release its CO2 slowly as it decays. Also, cleared spaces will soon regenerate with new plants, which will absorb large quantities of CO2 especially when young.

          Apparently, 2002 was a very bad year for forest fires in Oregon. However, it has been estimated that all the fires combined only released 22% of all the emissions from the state, the rest being from industry and use of fossil fuels. This figure seems to be wildly at odds with the one you quote.

          • The numbers came from the United States Forest Service. Last year was also the worst fire year for Oregon in many decades. It wasn’t just in Montana. Anyway, the USFS and universities like Oregon State and University of Oregon have been studying the contaminants released by forest fires and grass fires for some time.

            It is pretty easy to see first hand, too. Quite a few people in town resorted to wearing gas masks during the peak of the fire. CO2 levels were extremely high and so was the amount of soot and ash in the air. The fire we had about 5 miles from here even sent an ash cloud 12,000 feet into the air. For several days, the forest service wasn’t able to send aircraft up to take thermal images because the thermal updrafts were tremendous.

            One friend who flies the planes that take thermal readings said that he’d never seen conditions like that before, in 35 years of taking thermal readings.

            Many of the firefighters were also on the verge of collapse from extremely low humidity (about 9%) and also needed to be treated for carbon dioxide poisoning.

            One of the problems is that so much of that forest will never be cleared and replanted. The terrain is brutal, so even if there were roads to get equipment up there, and there aren’t, the slope is too steep to operate the machinery. This fire wasn’t the worst one in the state, either. It was under 50,000 acres. Like I said, over 9 million acres burned just in Montana.

    • Unfortunately, man is next to powerless when it comes to natural phenomenon. Thankfully, the trend is for cooler weather, but there is no telling when that will reverse. Thankfully, though, an 82 F increase in temperatures needed to melt the ice isn’t likely. Still, if Antarctica once again drifts northward, no temperature increase would be needed. I’ve not seen any recent scientific papers on the continental drift of Antarctica, but old papers suggested that it could happen within just a few hundred million years.

      It does remind me of the many ideas for towing icebergs to areas in need of fresh water. Some of those ideas are rather interesting.

    • Incidentally, John, I found it quite interesting that the NASA study found that sea levels around Antarctica are dropping at a rate of .32 mm per year. That isn’t much of a decline, but it adds up over time.

      • +10 degrees here on the Eastern Shore of Virginia shuts everything down lol However, being surrounded by water makes everything not only cold but very damp as well, and that gets in your bones and doesn’t come out too easily. I noticed, while I was in Missouri, it doesn’t seem as hot or cold in drier climates as it does here.

        • That is true. The extremes are bad, though, either way. Several times each summer, our humidity drops below 15%. That is danger level. When the humidity is that low, the heat doesn’t feel as bad, but the sweat evaporates the moment it is formed. A person can collapse with heat exhaustion or heat stroke very easily, without ever feeling that they needed to be concerned about it. Needless-to-say, I go through a lot of electrolytes every summer. lol

          • Please do! We drink a lot of Gatorade around here during the summer months, and that’s with a whole lot of humidity. My other jobs are very strenuous and fast-paced. I clean micro-mansions rented out for summer vacations and I do some light construction. The weight I gain during the winter months, luckily, gets ripped off fast! 🙂

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