Mike Lawrence: Icequakes, copper thefts: Consumption driving market


Mike Lawrence

Call Mike Lawrence at 871-4203 or e-mail mlawrence@steamboatpilot.com.


Copper tubing, shown here in the Ace Hardware store in Steamboat Springs on Tuesday, has increased dramatically in value lately, which has contributed to it being stolen from construction sites around town.

— It might not seem so, but Greenland's upcoming icequake season is related to recent thefts of copper from the Routt County Justice Center construction site west of downtown Steamboat Springs.

The two are caused by the same factor: consumption.

Let's start with icequakes, a word I heard for the first time this weekend at the Colorado Renewable Energy Conference at the Steamboat Grand. An icequake isn't a hockey tournament or the new brain-freezing concoction at Dairy Queen. According to Chuck Kutscher of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, an icequake is a seismic event with its epicenter inside a glacier or large sheet of ice.

They're increasing at an alarming rate.

Last year, scientists at Harvard and Columbia University said the frequency of icequakes worldwide more than tripled between 2002 and 2005.

Imagine a glacier the size of Manhattan moving 10 meters in less than a minute - a scenario given by Harvard seismologist Gran Ekstrm.

"This is the mother of all problems," Kutscher said Saturday. "We're changing the whole planet."

When glaciers and ice sheets melt, Kutscher explained, it's not like watching an ice cube slowly shrink into a puddle. Glaciers might start melting that way, but then numerous factors - such as icequakes - kick in and turn a slow melt into an accelerated, crashing breakdown.

Kutscher said there might be no glaciers left in Montana's Glacier National Park by 2030.

The National Center for Atmospheric Research estimates summer sea ice in the Arctic could be gone by 2040.

In Greenland, icequakes are most frequent in July and August. A melt of the total Greenland ice sheet would raise sea levels six to seven meters, Kutscher said - enough to cover roughly the lower third of Florida.

You may have already heard such horror stories. You can read more of them in the current National Geographic, which has a cover story called "The Big Thaw."

A driving force behind the thaw, of course, is humanity's drastically increasing consumption of natural resources and resulting carbon dioxide emissions, particularly from the U.S., China and India.

The U.S. now produces about 1.6 billion tons of carbon emissions per year.

Last month in Craig, Vince Matthews of the Colorado Geological Survey said China is growing so fast that it now consumes half of the world's concrete.

In the past two years, Matthews added, the U.S. has doubled its exports of molybdenum to China. Molybdenum is a chemical element used in high-strength steel alloys such as electrical contacts and industrial motors. Colorado is the nation's top producer of molybdenum, but local manufacturers can't get it - for sellers, the market is better elsewhere.

"Colorado may see increasing shortages of critical raw materials," Matthews said. "We've got incredible inflation waiting to hit us."

From January 2003 to March 2007, the price of nickel rose 497 percent, according to Matthews. The price of copper rose 448 percent over that time.

So it's no surprise a theft of copper building materials occurred at the Justice Center during the weekend - the second such theft from the site in less than a week.

Ken Klinger, an investigator with the Routt County Sheriff's Office, said selling stolen metals is "a black market business."

But there is good news here, at least for local hockey promoters - Icequake 2008 would be a great name for a tournament.


thecondoguy1 9 years, 9 months ago

Mike this is exciting, lots to look forward to, a melting polar ice cap, incredible inflation, no natural resources, nothing like a challange to keep the boomers interest up, there has got to be an opportunity here some where, I know when I put my finger on it I am gonna hide the copper a little better.......


thecondoguy1 9 years, 9 months ago

I have a friend that owns 3 large hair solons in so. cal. there are 35 hairdressers at each, there was a constant fight over the temperature, they were hot or cold, no one was happy because the thermostat was under lock and key. Always a battle, and people griping. He had phony thermostats installed and connected to nothing, took the covers and locks off so people could sneek over to them and change them,,, he hasn't had a complaint since.


thecondoguy1 9 years, 9 months ago

now,,, doesn't sbvor's post make more sense...........


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