Monthly News Summary – April 2000

April 24, 2000 | Abigail Mindock

Icebergs Captivate Public

by Terri Gregory, SSEC Public Information Specialist


April/May 2000

This column includes news coverage from March 5 through April 18.

People around the world have called and emailed to express awe and concern at news of giant iceberg B-15 breaking off the Ross Ice Shelf. They heard it on NPR and on local radio news programs. They saw it on the New York Times online version, on UniSci and many other Web sites. They read about it in local papers and saw it on national TV. Through satellite imagery, the rare event received publicity and email from literally every major media outlet, especially radio and Web, and local and regional newspapers and some TV, and from every corner of the world. CBS and ABC TV news programs used the imagery. Iceberg B-15 kept SSEC’s Antarctic Meteorological Research Center busy starting with the news release on March 22 by Terry Devitt of UW–Madison’s Office of News and Public Affairs.

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An image of iceberg B-15 on March 21 shows it beginning to break free from the Ross Ice Shelf. Taken by a U.S. Air Force satellite in the Defense Meteorological Satellite Program.

On Friday, March 17 at about 18:00 UTC, forecasters at McMurdo Station saw a very large iceberg in an image from the U.S. Air Force Defense Meteorological Satellite Program. Forecasters and McMurdo Station’s manager notified the National Science Foundation who told Douglas MacAyeal, a geophysicist at the University of Chicago. Doug had worked with Matthew Lazzara and others in the AMRC in their NSF-funded research, so he knew SSEC had access to satellite information. Doug asked Matthew to watch for the new massive iceberg on the high-resolution polar-orbiting satellite imagery received at the AMRC.

Since its start in 1992, AMRC has been funded by the National Science Foundation, the primary funding agency for Antarctic research projects. While technically unfunded and between NSF funding cycles, Principal Investigator Chuck Stearns, Matthew and SSEC decided to provide the imagery over the Internet. NSF released news of the new iceberg, named B-15 by the National Ice Center, and B-16, a small fragment that broke early from the big berg. NSF linked to AMRC’s iceberg Web page and the University of Wisconsin–Madison’s Office of News and Public Affairs released the story.

For more information, follow these links.

On March 30, while monitoring satellite imagery, Matthew found a new iceberg, just to the east of B-15. Roughly half the size of B-15, the new iceberg probably was “calved,” or broken off, because the larger berg rubbed against the ice shelf. On April 3, Amy VanBuskirk of the National Ice Center named the new berg B-17. Sometime later, a substantial piece of B-17 began to drift out to sea and was named B-18.

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An image of the Ross Ice Shelf provided by the National Science Foundation shows icebergs B-15, B-17 and B-18.

The new iceberg was covered by online and print versions of UW–Madison’sWisconsin Week. One of them began:


“The observation by UW–Madison scientists of two huge icebergs breaking off the Antarctic ice pack has set off a worldwide chain of concern.”

Internet Avalanche Falls

A deluge of media requests and an avalanche of email fell on AMRC and SSEC, from March 22 when news of B-15 was released through discovery of new icebergs B-17 and B-18. On March 23, Terry Devitt of UW–Madison’s Office of News and Public Affairs reported: “Nick Weaver, our Web guy, says the iceberg news item has generated the most hits on our Web site of any news story ever.” According to Nick, some 15,000 pages were requested between 2:30 p.m. and midnight on March 22, and another 20,000 from then to 1:30 p.m. March 23. By the afternoon of March 31, SSEC’s powerful AMRC server with its 150 possible Internet connections was completely bogged down. By April 5, the tide had ebbed somewhat. Email and media inquiries continued in early May at one to five each day. AMRC’s Matthew Lazzara, PI Chuck Stearns, Rob Holmes, George Weidner, and Linda Keller (of the Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences) all field requests with the bulk falling to Matthew, who maintains the satellite imagery and discovered the second big iceberg.

Radio Loves Iceberg

On March 23, National Public Radio’s Scott Simon interviewed Mary Ruth Keller of the National Ice Center on Morning Edition. While AMRC was not mentioned, Scott did use our size analogy: “Delaware is not,” he said, “one of our larger states,” implying that the iceberg could not be a big deal if it were no bigger than twice the size of Delaware. Mary set him straight—think of it, she said, as the size of Maryland stretched out. Scott then asked if there might be cause for concern about an iceberg this large floating loose. Mary replied that it took two years for B-9 to get into shipping lanes.

Later that morning, Matthew appeared on WHA Radio on Michael Feldman’s internationally broadcast show, Whad’Ya Know? as expert of the week. Wisconsin seemed to Mike a good vantage point for studying the Antarctic ice shelf, because, “if you’re standing there, sometimes you don’t see these things.” Matthew agreed that satellites gave everyone around the world a chance to monitor the iceberg, but he’d also like to put automatic weather stations on it. The interview is on the Web, although it is misdated March 18.

On March 27, Gary Tessler spoke with Matthew on Common Sense, a talk show on Radio for Change, broadcast on KWAB and on the Web from Boulder, Colorado. Gary introduced iceberg B-15 as “a fairly titanic ice cube,” and asked all the questions people have asked since forecasters first noticed iceberg B-15. Will it drift out to sea? How long will it take to melt? How far can it go? Matthew explained that colleagues at the University of Chicago are using his satellite observations to numerically simulate the iceberg’s movements and ascertain what will happen to it. After answering, “How far down does it go? If it’s so cold, will it melt at all? Has there ever been one this big? Are there shipping lanes it could drift into?” Matthew noted the possibility of interfering with supply routes to McMurdo Station, the main U.S. research station in Antarctica. Gary also asked, “What part do the winds play in its movement? What does affect its motion? Could you tow an iceberg this size to use as a fresh water source? How often do these things break off?” Then, he began to make the inevitable connection with global warming of the oceans, wondering if the iceberg is connected with the ozone hole and loss of the Arctic ice shelf. Matthew answered that currently scientists see no cause-effect relationship to any of these. Gary asked Matthew to give his Web site’s address on the air. A FAQ is being produced with answers to all these and other questions.

Iceberg News

This partial listing will be completed for the next “In the News.”

On March 22

Many of these media outlets called again for the second big iceberg.

  • Reuters news wire, picked up by Yahoo! News
  • AScribe, Public Interest Newswire
  • Earth Observatory Newsroom
  • (UW-Madison news release)
  • Radio: Voice of America, BBC Radio (heard on WORT-FM’s evening news)
  • TV: ABC News with Peter Jennings (AMRC provided background information), WKOW (Bob Lindemeier mentioned it in his 5:30 p.m. weathercast).

On March 23

  • Milwaukee Journal Sentinel—Meg Jones interviewed Matthew for the first print story we saw.
  • USA Today
  • Top story on UniSci March 23. The site posts daily university science news.
  • The Age, Australia
  • BBC News Online
  • Associated Press Online—New York Times, Yahoo! News, Washington Post
  • CNN Italia, the Italian-language Web site of CNN Interactive, used satellite images with pieces from the Associated Press and Reuters. On March 23, they said they’d quote the UW–Madison news release.
  • CBS Marketwatch—UPI story mixed AMRC’s iceberg monitoring with NOAA scientists’ report on ocean warming.
  • Other Online: USA Today, Environmental News Network
  • UseNet News/Newsgroups: sci.geo.meteorology (AP article), alt.war.vietnam (veterans were amazed)
  • Radio: CBS Radio (in Madison—WIBA), BBC World News Service (London), BBC Scotland, BBC Falklands, Canadian Broadcasting Co., National Public Radio, Public Radio International—LA Marketplace Radio, WMAQ (Chicago), KCBS San Francisco
  • Dan Rather’s Evening News on CBS TV
  • Madison’s WMTV—a straightforward story on the iceberg, till the anchors hoped aloud that it would not venture north to Wisconsin.

From the 24th onward

The Chicago Tribune, both the paper and online, emphasized the role of University of Chicago geophysicist Douglas MacAyeal. From McMurdo Station forecast reports, Doug told Matthew about the large iceberg calving from the Ross Ice Shelf. Doug continues to model future movements of the iceberg.

Associated Press Television News broadcast from London the satellite pictures on their video wire, “so that journalists around the world can conveniently use your images in their news reports.”

Gwen Carleton made Matthew’s iceberg page The Capital Times’ “Web Site of the Week” on March 31. “What is 295 km long, 37 km wide and very, very cold?” she asked. By now, we know the punch line to be “B-15.”

UW–Madison’s Office of News and Public Affairs keeps a clipping file and publishes the more obscure or momentous clips in its In the News Web column. It notes that the Irish Times for March 27 reported that B-15 is worth paying attention to because of its immense size. It would cover, they said, the counties of Mayo and Donegal combined. Matthew said, “This is a very big iceberg, close to a record, if not a record. It’s not often that you see them of this magnitude.”

Other Print

  • Wisconsin State Journal (AP, March 24)
  • Waikato Times (Hamilton, NZ, March 24)
  • The Capital Times (Madison, WI, March 25)
  • The Irish Times, March 27
  • “Earth Week: A Diary of the Planet” (Los Angeles Times Syndicate, in The Capital Times, March 27)
  • Vancouver Sun
  • La Libre Belgique (Brussels)
  • Denver paper
  • The Daily Cardinal (UW–Madison student newspaper, March 29)
  • Ciel et Espace (French science magazine)
  • Science News, April 1
  • Washington Times, April 2
  • Space News (Space Log, April 10)
  • New York Times, Science Times, April 11, by Henry Fountain
  • Latitude 38 (sailing magazine, San Francisco)



  • Media Alerts, Massive Iceberg
  • The Age, Hobart, Australia
  • Yahoo! News, Science
  • Yahoo! Hong Kong-News (Channel NewsAsia, March 25)
  • La Tercera, Chilean national newspaper
  • Aftonbladet Swedish newspaper (first and subsequent icebergs)
  • solcomhouse
  • Drudge Report (AP)


  • ABC News, for an April special
  • Italian National Public Television System RAI

2nd group of icebergs (B-17, B-18) 

Starting with releases from NSF and UW–Madison on March 30

  • Reuters
  • NASA’s Earth Observatory Newsroom showed all the icebergs in New Images, on top on April 17.
  • Wis.Week Icebergs 2
  • AScribe
  • UniSci Iceberg 2, lead spot March 31
  • Wired
  • Yahoo!
  • Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, March 31
  • Badger Herald, April 5
  • WHA Radio, Kathleen Dunn show (caller mentioned it)
  • BBC Radio
  • Tom Skilling, WGN-TV, Chicago
  • German Press Agency

Global Warming?

News of B-15 and B-17 started much discussion of global warming. The icebergs formed at the same time that NOAA released news of global ocean warming. The two events were linked mostly in news group discussions, but CBS Evening News with Dan Rather, Reuters, Art Bell’s “Dreamland” radio show and other media outlets made the same unfortunate connection.

Scott Lafee’s syndicated column Singularities baldly stated, “Scientists already agree that the sheet is melting.” He does not note that the Ross Ice Shelf regularly melts and regenerates and that an iceberg the size of B-15 calves every 50 to 100 years, to maintain the size and shape of the shelf.

P.I. Chuck Stearns was interviewed by the Daily Cardinal (March 29) and noted, “Climate change is not a factor in the break off… .” Chuck explained, “If the ice did not flow off Antarctica, all the water in the oceans would be deposited there.”

Other Iceberg Coverage

SSEC collaborators wrote from far-flung outposts to report that they’d seen UW–Madison iceberg news in local news sources. Andrew Collard of England’s Met. Office in Bracknell found the iceberg in BBC News Online; Brian Osborne found it in Hamilton, New Zealand’s local paper and his mother heard it on Radio New Zealand News at 7:30 the morning of March 23. In New Zealand the iceberg was compared to “the size of Jamaica.” Closer to home, EOS Project Scientist Michael King reported seeing iceberg news on Washington area TV news programs.

The Swedish online newspaper, the Aftonbladet, covered it twice, using two different size analogies: bigger than Östergötland (an island in Sweden) and twice the size of Öland, an island where ancestors of SSEC’s founding director Verner Suomi lived.

University of Chicago’s News Office linked to a story by the Chicago Tribune(March 24), and wrote one of their own, which appeared in their Chronicle (April 27). They noted that Douglas MacAyeal and Matthew Lazzara began working together when A-38 broke off the Ronne Ice Shelf in 1998. “For a year and a half, Lazzara said, he and his Wisconsin colleagues had casually followed the progress of A-38 through satellite images. Then MacAyeal gave a lecture at Wisconsin during which he presented a computer animation of A-38’s motion as it was jostled by ocean tides. ‘We had the satellite observations to complement Doug’s modeling work,’ Lazzara said. ‘Our hobby has turned into a serious research activity.’”

Susan Solomon of NOAA’s Aeronomy Lab in Boulder, CO wrote a book with Chuck Stearns on the 1912 Scott expedition which ended tragically. Her new book will include one of Matthew’s iceberg pictures.

Wisconsin Week, UW–Madison’s newspaper, published a summary of sorts on April 5 noting the worldwide debate the new icebergs had spawned.

Rob Holmes of the AMRC was interviewed for a BBC children’s education program and by Madison radio station WIBA.

Hillary Mayell wrote a comprehensive piece for the Environmental News Network and National Geographic Online News, where it was the top news story on April 12. Another version will appear in the magazine in the introductory section of short pieces.  Writing for Wired News on April 17, Kim Griggs stressed technology—weather satellites to track the icebergs, models to predict their movement, instruments to monitor them.

Lyndon State College in Vermont, where Matthew completed his undergraduate degree, will feature the icebergs in their alumni publication.

In the chaos surrounding the iceberg discovery, an incorrect measurement of volume was released. After Henry Fountain’s story appeared in the New York Times“Science Times” on April 11, a careful reader noted that the number AMRC had provided for an equivalent amount of water seemed wrong. Sure enough. AMRC’s rough estimate of 3.4 trillion gallons of water was probably closer to 600 to 1000 trillion gallons of water. PI Chuck Stearns calculated it to be about 2.4 X 1012 m3. Henry said the 3.4 trillion figure had seemed right to him—the iceberg looked about the size of Lake Michigan, which holds about 3.4 trillion gallons. The New York Times was to have released a correction.

Dave Santek prepared a stunning three-color composite of the calving icebergs, a digital composite he is expert at making, from new data. The newly launched Terra satellite carries MODIS, the Moderate-resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer which researchers in SSEC’s Cooperative Institute for Meteorological Satellite Studies helped develop. MODIS sees features as small as 250 meters in 36 different wavelength regions, some never measured before. MODIS collects more types of radiation data, making it easier than previously possible to distinguish gray and white shades of icebergs and cloud cover.

A three-color composite image from MODIS data taken March 20, showing B-15 and B-16 icebergs.


Obviously Matthew Lazzara is not monitoring the icebergs single-handedly with a little help from colleagues in AMRC. We acknowledge that many researchers worked together to discover, track and explain icebergs B-15 through B-18. Douglas MacAyeal in the University of Chicago’s Geophysics Department, forecasters and manager at McMurdo Station who saw the first iceberg on NOAA satellite imagery, Andy Archer of Antarctic Support Associates—the NSF support contractor, the National Ice Center’s Mary Root Keller, and many many others. Doug MacAyeal continues to model the icebergs’ movements and seeks funding for Team Iceberg, to include the AMRC, for continued iceberg analysis.

Email Reactions

People from everywhere emailed questions and reactions. Most email questions are incorporated in the Iceberg Frequently Asked Questions, to be posted in May. Some select reactions are here.

Just thanks for posting the incredible photos of the birth of the new Antarctic iceberg: It is a powerful thing to be able to see it in several ways so clearly.

I’m just a homemaker in southwest Missouri, back in the Ozark hills, but I am very impressed [with the satellite images of the iceberg].

The other day Antarctica was ten thousand miles from my home. Today it is in my living room.—Gary Knepper

Awesome! thanks for the pictures!—Douglas, NB, Canada

Thank you so much for sharing with us this exciting event. My wife and I are following it with great interest. The images are outstanding in spite of the clouds. We are following it on a day-by-day basis.—Fred A. Hatfield, Brevard, NC

We had a dinner party on Friday night and my guests also loved the new iceberg images.—Elizabeth vander Zaag

Thank you so much for your iceberg Web site and the animation today was just marvelous. I am thoroughly enjoying watching this. Any expansion in your labeling and comments about the iceberg would be appreciated by this ignorant amateur, but not if it would hold up the postings.—Kay Murphree

Thanks again for your response, tantamount to a personal phone call-back. It’s nice to know there are real people out there who read, and respond to sincere email.—Dan Lovil

THANKS for putting the pictures of this “happening” on the Web. Our fifth grade class is so interested I wish we could show them the actual size. Great work in getting kids interested.—Jarrod Heidtman

I would just like to thank you for making these pictures available as they are fantastic. To be able to sit in front of a monitor in the North West of Western Australia and see such images is wonderful. You probably take your computers a little bit for granted as they are your daily work tools. Ours is a window to the world and now space as well.—Michelle Kerr

You’ve got many nice pics on your site and I look forward to new images. I was quite disappointed to see that your real-time funding has expired and those images [daily composites] are not available. Could hardly have happened at a more inopportune time. Keep up the good work.—Doug Poland


CIRRUS Study Funded

NASA’s Office of Earth Sciences has funded SSEC’s CIRRUS proposal to be developed in a concept study. The Cloud InfraRed Radiometer for UnESS, or CIRRUS, is one of four innovative concept studies to be funded in the University Earth System Science (UnESS) Project. If funded after the concept study is successfully completed, CIRRUS would fly on the International Space Station to study ice clouds. According to principal investigator Steve Ackerman, “Understanding cloud ice would greatly enhance our understanding of clouds and their role in the global climate system.”

UnESS projects are dedicated to studying the long-term effects of natural and human-induced changes on the Earth’s global environment. CIRRUS would involve students in every aspect of the study and instrument design, from proposal writing to instrument fabrication.


Terra Tested

For More Information



In early March, WTMJ-TV, Milwaukee’s Channel 4, broadcast a piece based on Paul Zandt’s visit to SSEC. Paul, a WTMJ meteorologist and UW–Madison alumnus of the Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences department, combined interviews with Francis Bretherton, Chris Moeller and others in a piece on the science of the Wisconsin Cloud and Snow Experiment–Terra 2000. Besides noting that NASA’s ER-2 research aircraft visited Madison for the event, Paul emphasized the use of data from a new earth observing satellite, Terra, launched in December.

Wisconsin Week Wire (March 8) and the University Daybook for the Week of March 11-18 noted the end of WISC–T2000, “after several weeks of high-altitude research.”

An image of Tropical Cyclone Hudah, taken by the Moderate-Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) aboard Terra on March 29 and processed by Liam Gumley was the latest image for May 3 on NASA’s Earth Observatory Web site. Tropical Cyclone Hudah was one of the most powerful storms ever seen in the Indian Ocean.


In Print

For More Information

Scientific American for March used a three-color composite GOES satellite image of Hurricane Dennis to illustrate an article on NOAA’s use of aircraft in hurricane studies. The Southeast United States Hurricane Evacuation Traffic Study uses a color composite hurricane image on its cover. The report was published by FEMA, the U.S. Department of Transportation and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

SSEC’s spaceflight hardware and instrument development are included in “Partners in Technology Transfer,” a special issue of Updating the Wisconsin Idea. The UW–Madison publication “tells stories of faculty and staff who are working in partnerships with businesses, … and other community-based groups to improve our state, nation and world.” “Partners,” in the April 2000 issue, focuses on public benefits of university research, primarily as facilitated by University Industry Relations and the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation.

UW’s alumni publication On Wisconsin (Spring 2000) noted Charles Stearns’ research into weather conditions affecting Robert Scott’s 1912 expedition to the South Pole. Stearns gathered contemporary weather data from his group’s Automatic Weather Stations for Susan Solomon’s and his book on Scott showing that weather played an important part in the deaths of the explorers. Scott and his men, said Chuck, literally froze to death in temperatures that were “ten to twenty degrees below normal for that time of year.”


Brenda Dingus, professor in UW–Madison’s Department of Physics and recipient of a Presidential Early Career Award, may have been drawn to this university at least in part by the Space Science and Engineering Center. The Wisconsin State Journal for April 12 quotes Physics Chair Lee Pondrom saying that SSEC, “which has a lot of expertise,” may have been a reason. Brenda Dingus specializes in gamma ray astronomy.

Astronomy magazine will use an image of Neptune produced by Larry Sromovsky and Pat Fry in its June issue. Writer Robert Noeye used the image, taken by the Hubble telescope, in a profile of Robert Fewgate, the inventor of modern optics.

The Reader’s Digest for July may include a hurricane explanation by Chris Velden who leads the CIMSS Tropical Cyclone group. Chris’ explanation may appear in Janice Leary’s “It’s a Fact” column.

Satellite images of hurricanes will be used in The Ship and The Storm, a book by Jim Carrier based on the Fantome, destroyed in a storm. The book is published by International Marine/McGraw Hill and will be released in October.


From the Net

For More Information

Edicom *this page is no longer available* 

Thomas Kowall of Edicom, a French language news and information Web site, asked to use SSEC’s Global montage to “enrich [the weather] section with your Satellite Image … (land/sea temperatures and clouds) in order to provide our visitors with a global view of the weather on earth.” Thomas explained, “Our Web server offers different kinds of information to the local population on the border of the Lake of Geneva,” in Lausanne, in the French speaking part of Switzerland. Edicom transformed the montage into an interactive globe—you can use your mouse to move around on its surface. Click on the first link below the weather map, La météo mondiale en 3DOr, and “tourner le globe.”


GOES Gallery

The Smithsonian Institution’s Global Volcanism Program mentions CIMSS on their Web site. On their page devoted to volcano Guagua Pichincha in Ecuador, they use imagery from the GOES Gallery to illustrate a large eruption in October 1999. Scroll down to “Eruption on 7 October,” more than halfway through the page.

Scott provided more GOES Gallery images to a group producing a documentary on the Dakota Ground Blizzard of 1997. Producer Anthony Pavlic said, “Scott was extremely helpful by not only providing us with the satellite imagery but offered plenty of his expertise in explaining the nature of the storm.” The show was to have aired on the National Geographic network this spring.

Prospect, KY

Russell Conger of Prospect, Kentucky, uses a satellite image of Kentucky on his Web page. Generated on SSEC’s McIDAS, the GOES image is updated twice hourly and is part of a very detailed weather page for Prospect, a suburb of Louisville. (Unfortunately, the credit provided makes it seem that the high-resolution satellite image is provided by NCAR. The real credit line is above the image.) Russ is a National Weather Service meteorologist who runs the site for free out of his own home.

In January, the McIDAS community lost two “old friends.” Part of a suite of computers at the Cape Canaveral Forecast Facility, they helped forecast weather for Space Shuttle launches and Air Force missions since they were installed in 1984. The two IBM-4381 McIDAS mainframe computers were decommissioned in January. Russ Bolton, a long-time user of SSEC’s Man computer Interactive Data Access System at Kennedy Space Center, said that the two computers and their associated peripheral equipment, were “the last of the CISIS and WIDEWORD workstations. The Multisourcerers and even the PRONET worked till the end. The majority of this equipment … has provided continuous support to the US space program since [its installation].” The computers were replaced by new McIDAS technology.

Honors and Outreach

Statistician Grace Wahba has been named to the National Academy of Sciences. Grace works with SSEC’s Donald Johnson on numerical weather prediction. Grace helped develop the “cross-validated spline method … used, for example, to extract more information from such things as … atmospheric and geologic data collected by satellites.”

Matthew Lazzara visited Hopkinton High School in Massachusetts to talk about Antarctica and was featured in the school’s paper. Matthew and SSEC also supplied data to the school’s computer programming class for a special project—writing C++ code to analyze data from Automatic Weather Stations. The class’s code reads the raw data and computes atmospheric measurements like average temperature and pressure.