Newfoundland's Migrating Icebergs Showed Up Really Early This Year

Tour companies are pleased, but it could mean bad news for the ice caps.


Every year, gigantic hunks of ice break off of glaciers in Greenland and float Southwest toward Canada, often passing through a narrow corridor of coastline off Newfoundland and Labrador. It usually happens in late March at the earliest, but this year the giant slabs of ice showed up off the coast in mid January, mystifying residents and tour companies that make their seasonal earnings off of the spectacular ‘bergs.

Byron Briggs, superintendent of Atlantic region ice operations for the Canadian Coast Guard, told The National Post that the icebergs are often in the water this time of year, but are rarely this close to land until later months.

“The difference being this time, some of them are close enough to shore for people to see,” Briggs said. “In 2014 there were definitely more bergs than there are now, but most of them were about 100 miles off.”

People on shore usually can’t see icebergs any further out than 20 kilometers.

Gabrielle McGrath, commander of the United States Coast Guard International Ice Patrol, which started in 1912 after the Titanic disaster, said abnormal weather fluctuations and storm patterns could be responsible for the early arrival.

“Some of the bergs have been pushed onshore maybe a little earlier than they would in the past.” McGrath told The National Post.

The strip of coastline down Newfoundland and Labrador, known as Iceberg Alley, has a bustling tourism industry centered around ‘berg-watching — one company even brews beer with melted iceberg water.

Thus far, residents seem to be pleased with early ‘burgs. But as the ice caps continue to melt, anomalies like early iceberg migrations may get more and more common, and other fluctuations could change people’s way of life in the Arctic.

Some icebergs, like the massive one off of Bonavista, could linger in one place until late summer, if their giant underwater mass runs aground. The icebergs drift an average of 0.7 kilometers an hour, making a leisurely descent down the Canadian coastline. They vary widely in size, from a massive 13 kilometer long, 6 kilometer wide ‘berg off Baffin Island in 1882 that weighed over 9 billion tons, to smaller “bergy bits” that are only the size of a house. According to Newfoundland’s Iceberg Facts, the Baffin Island ‘berg could have provided enough fresh water for everyone in the world to drink a liter a day for four years.

Rising sea levels may be an early tourist boon now for some communities, but early ‘bergs could be yet another sign of climate doom. But unlike droughts and forest fires and typhoons, the floating chunks of ice are at least an unbelievably beautiful sign of the times.

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