Monday, April 24, 2017
Tip of the Iceberg
“Eighty-five percent of all icebergs found in the North Atlantic come from the ice fjords on Greenland's west coast, and the ice shelf in Ilulissat is the most likely birthplace of the Titanic iceberg.
“The iceberg that sank Titanic would have started life as a snowflake 15,000 years earlier. Snow that falls at the centre of the Greenland ice sheet is at first fluffy and not particularly dense, but it compacts with depth to become a third of its original size. Tens of metres below the surface it becomes so dense it turns to solid glacial ice.” BBC.co.uk.
On April 14, 1912, at 11:40 p.m., as the spring melt loosed the annual bevy of icebergs into the North Atlantic, the Titanic slammed a mass of solid ice where the visible part of the iceberg – that above the waterline – was anywhere between 50 to 100 feet high and 200 to 400 feet long. The rest, as we say, is history.
Back then and until recently, the number of such North Atlantic icebergs generally numbered about 80 every spring. However, as satellite maps confirm, looking at melting glaciers and cracking ice from both poles, that reality is changing fast… perhaps to a point where there will continue to be so many new icebergs for the foreseeable future… until this phenomenon stops someday because there is no more ice to melt. The number of spring icebergs in the North Atlantic has moved rapidly up to well over 400 such lurking dangers today. While modern ships are generally equipped with much more sophisticated sonar and radar, the North Atlantic is more treacherous than ever now. And remember, not all ships are moving… sometimes it is the iceberg that is the mover.
“‘I’ve never seen anything like it in my decade of experience,’ said U.S. Coast Guard Cmdr. Gabrielle McGrath, commander of the USCG's International Ice Patrol, in a recent interview. McGrath says that recent storms have led to a larger and earlier spring breakup: IIP's satellite observations recently identified 455 icebergs in one week, five times the average in years past…
“Offshore activity has also been affected. On March 29, the oil firm Husky Energy reported a close encounter between an iceberg and the FPSO [a maritime acronym for commercial vessels meaning “Floating Production Storage & Off-loading”], which is permanently anchored at Husky's White Rose field about 200 nm off Newfoundland. [In this case, the iceberg headed for the stationary oil vessel.] The 30-foot-tall berg came to within about 200 yards of the vessel. Husky said that it had been monitoring the iceberg's approach, and that the berg changed course towards the . As a precautionary measure, the FPSO operator depressurized the production wells, flushed flowlines with water and mustered the crew in preparation for a potential disconnect from the subsea production system. [read: red alert!] The iceberg passed by without further incident.
“The bergs are a hazard for merchant mariners, but for tour boat operators they are good for business. Newfoundland tour company manager David Boyd recently told the Telegram that the flood of icebergs so early in the season will be a boost to the region's economy. ‘It's amazing news. Every day people are emailing me asking when to come visit,’ he said. ‘I hope to be at it all summer. It would be monumental for tourism.’” Maritime-Executive.com, April 5th. Great, we can shift from ships carrying goods or serving as stationary platforms for oil drilling/delivery operations to tourism!
“An unusually large number of icebergs have drifted into the shipping lanes of the North Atlantic in recent weeks, forcing vessels to detour well to the south to avoid danger.” MyInforms.com, April 6th. While the risks of a massive collision are not insubstantial, as such large commercial vessels are forced to reroute, they burn up both additional time (and time is money) and massive amounts of diesel fuel in the process, a waste any way you look at it. And burning more diesel fuel only makes the greenhouse gas issue that much worse. Every day, we learn a little bit more about the harm we are inflicting upon ourselves and our planet as we seem unable, and under the Trump administration, unwilling, to take sufficient measures to stem the cumulative damage of burning fossil fuels.
I’m Peter Dekom, and I do not join the others who are overjoyed at the official U.S. government policy to deny global climate change.