The Manhattan Transfer

The Last Polar BearOn Wednesday of last week the media announced that a “large piece of Antarctica’s ice shelf broke-off.” They then went on to report the size as approximately 7 times the size of Manhattan.

Honestly, I just had to laugh.

Not for a moment was I laughing over the further evidence of climate warming, because unlike several of our elected officials, I do read, and climate change is clearly a legitimate concern.

What is up for grabs is all the questions about the scope and impact of climate change.

What I had a good chuckle over was the media’s math in calculating the ice shelf as “7 times the size of Manhattan.” Well numerically they were spot-on. Manhattan is approximately 23 square miles and the section of the Wilkins Ice Shelf that fractured was 160 square miles. So that part works. But using Manhattan as your standard of measurement?

The New York Times, always ready to jump out in front when hysteria is in the air, editorialized about the ice fracture in the March 28 edition of the paper. They are opposed to global warming, daring devils that they are, and they threw around terms like “enormous,” and “huge.” That’s what caught my attention. Now Manhattan is pretty big when you look up, but as a piece of land, the Indians probably thought they did pretty well taking $24 for the whole parcel. I’m not certain, but I think there are car dealerships in Dallas that are larger than Manhattan.

Of course to the average New York Times reporter, whose world view stretches from Brooklyn to the south Bronx, but prefers the friendlier environs of midtown-Manhattan, this Manhattan method of measuring seems like a perfectly reasonable idea. Much like our provincial ancestors who determined that a foot, a yard, or a pound, was relevant to some obscure royal standard, this Manhattan measuring stick is just as obscure and equally elitist.

So I did a little calculating of my own. First rule of sensible measurement, you have to jump out of the old imperial method, a bad habit we have leftover from the days of King George, and abandoned by the British long ago, and measure distances in meters and kilometers. In fact, interesting side note, the US Congress passed the Metric Act in 1866.

Perhaps on the bi-centennial of that act, 2066, we will join nearly all the other nations in the world and actually implement the metric system.

This fracture, 160 square miles, is 414 kilometers. The landmass of Antarctica is 14 million square kilometers. I tried to get my cheesy calculator to tell me what sub-atomic fraction of one percent that represents but it balked. So, I don’t know exactly how small a number that is but lets just say it’s really, really, really small.

Oh, and by the way, the Larsen Ice Shelf that broke off in 2002, was a chunk of 3,200 square kilometers, the size of 54 Manhattans.

Of course, the NY Times having used words like “enormous” to describe last week’s break, which was only 13 percent the size of that 2002 split, would have to describe the Larsen Ice Sheet as super stupendous humongous, and for good measure, catastrophic. Good thing they’re not out to scare people!

Of course, if you want to see something scary take a look at your next credit report. But before you do, read my article on that topic, here…

I also have some last minute tax tips, for you, too.

Martin Brown
SMW Money Editor