The coast of Labrador and the northeast coast of Newfoundland is right along the part often known as Iceberg Alley. Each year in April and May it plays host to thousands of the icebergs as they make their way south, driven mainly by the cold Labrador Current. It’s something of a tourist draw. Boat tours in particular do a good business in showing the sights from a safe distance.
Most of these bergs are formed (calved) from glaciers on the west side of Greenland. Once afloat they slowly make their way along Baffin Island, then along the coast of Labrador, then along Newfoundland. Many go aground here and slowly melt throughout the summer. The rest continue their journey south along the Grand Banks.
As the Titanic disaster proved, they are quite a hazard to shipping. This continues to this day where oil production operations are continually on alert for the dangers resulting from the bergs, which may be a million tonnes or more.
For the most part, though, modern shipping and oil production relies on technological means and publicly funded services. They bergs show up on radar and are tracked by satellite. Sites like Iceberg Finder make it all fairly easy.
This is generally the second year of travel for the bergs in Newfoundland. Yes, it took two years to get here.
Of course that’s nothing compared to the age of the ice–ten thousand years or more.
Last summer Josephine and I were sitting out in the back garden, enjoying a fine evening, when my buddy Mike K dropped by. He had a large bag under his arm, which he dropped on the deck with a loud clatter.
A great big lump of ice.
“I got this out by Black Head,” he announced. “A Growler (note: small iceberg) came ashore there by the beach so I grabbed my boots, drove out there and cut off some of it. It’s great for putting in drinks.”
He proceeded to demonstrate.
He was right.
Despite being in salt water, icebergs are made from fresh water. They come from glaciers which, in turn, are formed from fallen snow.
Being the hardy people we are, nothing is gong to waste!
There’s a company here that makes, among other things, Vodka, using the water from icebergs.
That ten-thousand year old ice yields wonderful “drinking” water.
As you probably know, around nine-tenths of an iceberg is under water. So what you see is, well, just the tip of the iceberg. The part you can’t see may be much different.
Kind of reminds you of many of the people you know, doesn’t it?
The bergs are constantly being eroded too by contact with the sea floor, the water and the air. They occasionally de-stabilize owing to this asymmetric loss of mass and can suddenly pitch and toss; maybe even roll all the way over as they seek a new equilibrium in the water–quite a dangerous situation if you are foolhardy and dare to get too close.
Hmmm. Now that I think about it, some people can be a bit like that too when you try and get close.
Icebergs also make sounds, but you often have to get close to hear them.
There’s generally four kinds of noises:
- those caused by the wind as it flows past this irregular surface in the middle of the open ocean–it can be eerie sometimes;
- those caused by the waves as they strike along the irregular surface; choppy, sloppy, thumpy noises;
- huge cracks, roars and waterfall sounds that happen when a berg destabilizes and rolls or breaks apart;
- and finally, pops and fizzes. You only get this on the really quiet days. It’s the dissolved gas escaping as the ice melts. That dissolved air may also be why iceberg water tastes so good, who knows!
Last Saturday was a bit mauzy; too damp for doing work outdoors but still nice enough to make you not want to spend the day indoors. It seemed a good day for a drive. So that’s what OH and youngest daughter did–we drove the section of road along the peninsula that separates Trinity Bay from Conception Bay.
Of course icebergs weren’t the only thing we saw but it did seem like a good idea to photograph at least some of them.
What you see is only a small fraction of what’s there. I’d estimate there are thousands to be seen.
A few days earlier my cousin Paddy, who lives in Fogo (which could call itself an iceberg capital) climbed some of the hills on the island and took a few pictures of his own. On one of them he counted…
We never did see that many at a time, but, who knows, this year’s iceberg season is far from over.
Of course the south-bound icebergs will soon be met by the north-bound whales. They’ll be at our shores soon.