UAB polar scientist describes Antarctic ice shelf break impact

View of Antarctica
Photo of Antarctica taken by UAB’s Dr. Jim McClintock earlier this year

Earlier this week, University of Alabama at Birmingham polar biologist, Antarctic explorer and 2016 Bham Now BOLD speaker, Jim McClintock, Ph.D., previewed for UAB News the pending Larsen C Antarctic ice shelf break, the impact it will have on the ecology in the region and how it will damage scientific efforts to fight cancer and infections.

Scientists predicted the Antarctic ice shelf was going to break this week.

It did.

Location of Antarctic Ice Shelf Break from Larsen C Ice Shelf
Graph from UAB News

According to various news reports, a massive iceberg the size of Delaware broke free from Antarctica this Wednesday morning and is floating in the sea. Scientists announced that the 6,000-square-kilometer (about 2,300 square miles) iceberg had come loose, after satellites detected it had calved off the Larsen C ice shelf on the Antarctic Peninsula.  It is one of the biggest iceberg breaks ever recorded in history and its volume is more twice that of Lake Erie.

UAB interviewed McClintock, who said it was another warning sign that our planet is changing and that we will lose the “chemical diversity” that can fight cancer and infections.

Here is an excerpt of  McClintock’s comments from the video:

“The significance of this event is that this is not the first ice sheet that’s broken off from the Antarctica peninsula. It is about the ninth or tenth to that’s broken off in the last 30-40 years. This is a pattern of increased activity that certainly if not directly, indirectly  related to climate change.

As somebody who works on climate change, like I do, this is a big deal.  It’s a warning sign. It’s another one of the warning signs that our planet is changing. It’s warming.

It means a lot to me personally because having worked in Antarctica for  30 years I know that some of the organisms I study on the sea floor, sponges and soft corals have chemicals in them that can fight cancer and can fight MRSA  bacteria that are so dangerous in hospitals now.  We study these things and we know there is this incredible chemical diversity that has potential for being very important for humans in the centuries to come.”

Will we heed these warnings?  Want to learn more about the Larsen C ice shelf break?  On Friday, July 14 at 10 a.m. Central time, UAB will host a Facebook Live Q&A session with Dr. McClintock at


Pat Byington
Pat Byington

Longtime conservationist. Former Executive Director at the Alabama Environmental Council and Wild South. Publisher of the Bama Environmental News for more than 18 years. Career highlights include playing an active role in the creation of Alabama's Forever Wild program, Little River Canyon National Preserve, Dugger Mountain Wilderness, preservation of special places throughout the East through the Wilderness Society and the strengthening (making more stringent) the state of Alabama's cancer risk and mercury standards.

Articles: 2095