I was recently watching a nature special about animals in Nova Scotia. Some of the shots of animals living along the coast included icebergs in the background. I was surprised to see an Arctic iceberg that far south, but it was small—about the size of a tennis court. Surprisingly, I did not see any icebergs this May when I sailed around the northern part of Norway—far north of the Arctic Circle. I learned that icebergs are less common off Norway because of the warmer waters of the Gulf Stream. And climate change has significantly decreased the amount of ice in the Arctic. Ships now routinely transit the fabled ‘Northwest Passage’.
If you want to see icebergs, the place to go is Antarctica. There are seven times as many icebergs there as in the Arctic. And the larger icebergs there dwarf anything seen in the Arctic. I was dumbfounded when I saw my first huge iceberg in Antarctica in 1969 during my five-month deployment aboard the USCGC Glacier—at the time the largest icebreaker in the free world. Imagine seeing and iceberg as large as Rhode Island or colossal ice sculptures in almost any conceivable shape.
Once an iceberg breaks off a glacial sheet, it is forever changing. It is hard not to be fascinated to some degree by icebergs. They are beautiful, but dangerous. Brilliantly obvious, but mostly hidden. White as fluffy snow, but with the tensile strength of steel. Seemingly stationary, but always moving.
In 2017 a section of the Larsen Ice Shelf broke off. It was headline news, because it was as big as the state of Delaware. This iceberg won’t cause sea levels to rise because it was floating in the ocean long before it broke off, but the land ice dammed up further behind it eventually could.
This huge free-floating ice mass will remain in the area of the Antarctic Peninsula—the area most frequented by tourists. It will drift in the circular currents of the Weddell Sea, break up and eventually disappear. You could see a section of this berg during the upcoming summer season in Antarctica. (When it’s winter in the Northern Hemisphere, it’s summer down there.) And large parts—maybe the size of Manhattan—will be there next summer, too.