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FACTCHECK

Debunked: No, this photo of a ship in the Antarctic does not prove that the Earth is flat

An image on social media purports to show proof of a flat Earth.

A PHOTO WHICH purports to show proof that the Earth is flat is doing the rounds on social media.

The post was shared by the Facebook group The Earth is Flat and shows a ship next to a large, steep wall of ice with the caption: “When someone tells you there’s no ice wall in Antarctica. Show them this picture.”

It is accompanied by a title: “It seems like an ice wall to me and flat.”

Screenshot 2022-02-03 at 14.23.15 Post claiming photographic proof of the 'Antarctic Ice Wall'

Does the image prove that the Earth is flat? Let’s take a look.

‘Ice Wall’ theory

The ‘Antarctic Ice Wall’ is a much-touted theory by those who believe in a flat Earth.

The theory claims that Antarctica doesn’t sit at the ‘bottom’ of Earth’s southern hemisphere; instead, its proponents say that the seventh continent traverses the outside of “flat” circular Earth and acts as a huge wall that keeps it together.  

As prominent Flat Earther Robbie Davidson explained to Forbes: ”It’s kind of like an ice shore and it’s very, very large. It’s not like you just go there, and you can just peek over it.”

Davidson also explained that many Flat Earthers don’t think the ice itself is what keeps anyone from going over the edge of the Earth, because “a big portion” of the community “believes that we’re in a dome, like a snow globe.”

Beliefs around what lies outside of the ice wall vary, some say it goes on infinitely while another theory is that there are hidden continents beyond  

In 2019, the Flat Earth International Conference, an event featuring flat earth speakers and sellers of flat earth maps, reportedly attempted to organise a cruise to Antarctica to prove their theory in 2019, according to multiple media outlets.

The cruise, however, did not go ahead.

But does the picture shared on social media prove the Earth is flat by showing the existence of the ‘Antarctic Ice Wall’? 

German icebreaker

Looking more closely at the image shared on social media, the photograph shows the name of the boat as the RV Polarstern.

An online search for a ship with this name confirmed it is a German icebreaker, and resulted in a range of images showing a ship with the same colours and markings as the boat depicted beside the so-called ‘ice wall’.

Photos from a different angle show the Polarstern unloading cargo onto ice in the same manner. 

The Polarstern was launched in 1982 and was the first research vessel to travel the Northeast and Northwest Passages, circling the North Pole in one trip.

It is frequently used for both Arctic and Antarctic expeditions and made news last year for circumnavigating the A74, an iceberg in Antarctica with an area of 1,290 square kilometres.  

However, while there are many reports of the Polarstern navigating icebergs and delivering supplies to Antarctic research stations, none have ever mentioned the ship hitting the ‘Antarctic Wall’ i.e the end of the Earth. 

Ice shelves do exist in Antarctica, with research showing that they play a key role in maintaining ocean temperatures which stabilises the climate.

However, these are not walls encircling the edge of a flat Earth.

According to the US-based National Snow and Ice Data Centre ice shelves are “permanent floating sheets of ice that connect to a landmass” with the largest ice shelves “as big as Texas or France” located in Antarctica. 

The Ross Ice Shelf’s barrier wall in Antarctica rises in places as much as 60 metres, while others have a front terminus of up to 100m tall.

shutterstock_646102855 The Ross Ice Shelf Shutterstock / Dale Lorna Jacobsen Shutterstock / Dale Lorna Jacobsen / Dale Lorna Jacobsen

This is why the Polarstern and other photos of icebreakers show them being dwarfed by the edge of the ice shelves as they off load goods. 

It appears that the image shared on social media shows the Polarstern working at one of these shelves – and not an ‘ice wall’.

Could the Earth be flat?

Well, according to the Columbia Climate School, “if Earth were flat, you’d know it, because a lot of things would work differently.”

Columbia scholars pointed out that a things like gravity, the sun and magnetic fields wouldn’t behave the way they currently do if the Earth was flat. 

James Davis, a geophysicist at Columbia, said things like GPS wouldn’t be possible on a flat earth because satellites wouldn’t be able to orbit the planet.

In fact, members of the physics community in 2019 were challenged in the American Journal of Physics to develop a “simple, straightforward answer” to refute the ‘evidence’ for a flat Earth.

Retired physicist Bruce Sherwood used a 3D simulation of a flat Earth to show how different things would look with a naked eye if we lived there instead of  a spherical Earth.

He found that one of the main discrepancies between a flat Earth and a ’round Earth’ would be the changing size of the sun and other stars, as well as the increased visibility of constellations that currently only appear in southern or northern hemispheres.

These effects are not observed because the Earth is not flat: it is an oblate spheroid.

The photograph cannot show a ship beside an Antarctic wall at the edge of a flat Earth because this would be physically impossible. The ship shown in the image is simply an icebreaker which is pictured beside a large ice shelf.

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