In 2002, a huge chunk of the Larsen Ice Shelf – “Larsen B” – collapsed into the sea. In just over a month, an area the size of the US state Rhode Island vanished from the Antarctic Peninsula – the most dramatic ice shelf disintegration ever recorded.
Scientists attributed this collapse to a series of warm summers, which led to increased air temperatures and the formation of meltwater ponds on the shelf’s surface. This water flowed down through cracks in the ice, helping to lever it apart and bring about its downfall.
The Larsen B ice shelf, before (left) and after (right) its collapse in early 2002 (credit: NASA Earth Observatory)
The lovably eccentric band British Sea Power paid tribute to this defunct ice shelf on their 2005 album Open Season. “Oh Larsen B” features the glorious lyrics: “You’re fractured and cold but your heart is unbroken / My favourite foremost coastal Antarctic shelf / Oh Larsen B, oh you can fall on me / Oh Larsen B, desalinate the barren sea”.
And the music is equally glorious – one of British Sea Power’s trademark anthems, all buzzsaw guitars and breathy vocals. In fact, it’s probably the best love song to a collapsed ice shelf ever written…
Click here to read all of the previous “Songs of Science” posts.
“Holocene” is a song by Bon Iver (a.k.a. Justin Vernon), a man who proves that beards and falsettos aren’t incompatible. It’s a lovely, slow-burning track, built around a looped acoustic guitar and skittery percussion…the crescendo at 4:40 still gets me every time. Here’s the equally jaw-dropping video, shot in the Icelandic wilds:
The Holocene is the name of the Earth’s current geological ‘epoch’, which began around 12,000 years ago at the end of our planet’s last major glacial period. The entire history of human civilisation has been played out during the Holocene, from our nomadic hunter-gatherer ancestors through to today’s modern society.
Talking about the song, Justin Vernon said: “Our lives feel like these epochs, but really we are dust in the wind. But I think there’s a significance in that insignificance…” The lyrics are about those moments when you feel humbled by the bigger picture (“And at once I knew I was not magnificent…I could see for miles, miles, miles”).
Now maybe Bon Iver should go on tour with Pleistocene and Younger Dryas…it’d be a geologist’s wet dream.