Crystal Palaces of the Sea
BY AWAKE! CORRESPONDENT IN CANADA
“ICEBERG right ahead!” shouts the anxious lookout. The crew on the ship’s bridge reacts immediately. Engines are reversed to avoid a collision. But it is too late. The ship’s starboard side sustains a fatal gash.
In less than three hours, the North Atlantic swallows the world’s then largest luxury ocean liner. On April 15, 1912, just five days into its maiden voyage from Europe to North America, the Titanic comes to rest on the ocean floor, two-and-a-half miles [4 km] beneath the surface. About 1,500 passengers and crew die at sea.
And what was left of the massive ice lump? It remained virtually intact. Only its tip collided with the Titanic. The following day, searchers spotted it floating south into warmer waters, as if nothing had happened. The berg’s demise, a gradual melting into the vast ocean, would soon be forgotten. The sinking of the Titanic, though, is still remembered as a traumatic sea disaster.
Icebergs! They are so inviting and majestic, yet so unyielding. Have you ever seen them close up and sensed the effect they have on man and nature? Would you like to know why and how they come into existence? And what is done to safeguard people at sea from the potential peril of icebergs? (See box “International Ice Patrol.”)
Origin and Life Cycle
Icebergs are like giant freshwater ice cubes. They come from glaciers and ice sheets in the North and in the Antarctic. Did you know that the Antarctic ice cap produces some 90 percent of the earth’s icebergs? It also yields the largest ones. These stand as high as 400 feet [100 m] above the waterline and can measure more than 200 miles [300 km] in length and 60 miles [90 km] in width. Large icebergs can range between 2 million and 40 million tons. And like snowflakes, no two bergs look alike. Some are tabular, or flat-topped. Others are shaped like a wedge, are pinnacled, or are domed.
Usually only about one seventh to one tenth of an iceberg’s mass is visible above the water. This is especially true of flat-topped icebergs. It is much like what you see when a cube of ice floats in a glass of water. However, this ratio of exposed ice to submerged ice varies, depending on the berg’s shape.
Antarctic icebergs tend to be flat-topped and slab-sided, while Arctic icebergs are often irregular and turreted. These latter ones, which mostly come from the great ice cap covering Greenland, pose the greatest threat to man, since they may drift into transatlantic shipping lanes.
Just how are icebergs produced? In the northern and southern regions of the earth, the accumulation of snow and freezing rain often exceeds melting and evaporation. This causes the layers of snow that develop on land surfaces to become glacial ice. Year after year, as more snow and rain fall, a continual packing occurs. This creates massive ice fields over vast land areas like that of Greenland. Eventually, the ice reaches a thickness and hardness that causes the heavy glacier to slide ever so slowly down from elevated slopes into valleys and finally into the sea. In describing this migration, Bernard Stonehouse stated in his book North Pole, South Pole: “Hard ice is elastic but readily deformable; under pressure its hexagonal crystals align, then slide on each other to create the flowing and slumping we associate with glaciers.”
Just imagine a river of ice moving across uneven terrain very slowly, like cold molasses. Already carrying deep vertical cracks, this giant sheet of ice will be further influenced to produce a spectacular phenomenon once it reaches the coastline. With the combined effects of the rise and fall of tides, flexing waves, and underwater erosion, a huge chunk of freshwater ice that can extend some 25 miles [40 km] out to sea will thunderously break away from the glacier. An iceberg is born! One observer described it as a “floating crystal castle.”
In the Arctic, between 10,000 and 15,000 icebergs are formed annually. Yet very few, comparatively speaking, reach the southerly waters along the coast of Newfoundland. What happens to the ones that do?
After icebergs are calved, the ocean current carries most of them on an extended journey before swinging some of them west and south and eventually into the Labrador Sea, nicknamed Iceberg Alley. Icebergs that do survive the drift of approximately two years from their birthplace into the open Atlantic off Labrador and Newfoundland experience a brief life span. Drifting into warmer waters, they experience extensive deterioration due to melting, erosion, and more calving.
Typically, during the day the ice melts and water collects in fissures. At night the water freezes and expands in these cracks and causes pieces to break off. This creates a sudden change in the shape of the berg, altering its center of gravity. The mass of ice subsequently rolls over in the water, exposing an entirely new ice sculpture.
As this cycle continues and the ice castles further reduce in size by splitting, they produce their own icebergs called “bergy bits,” about the size of an average house, and “growlers,” about the size of a small room—the latter so named because of the sound they make while floating in the waves. Some smaller growlers may even flounder in the shallow waters of the shoreline and inlets.
Whatever the circumstances, the environment in the more southerly waters will cause the iceberg’s rapid disintegration into small fragments of freshwater ice and then into part of the mighty ocean. Until that happens, however, icebergs are to be treated with caution.
How Icebergs Touch Our Lives
Fishermen who depend on the ocean for their livelihood tend to view icebergs as a nuisance and a hazard. Said one fisherman: “The iceberg may be desired by the tourists, but to the fisherman it is a possible menace.” Fishermen have returned to check their catch, only to find that an iceberg, moved by the tide and the current, has destroyed their valuable nets and their catch.
Icebergs deserve respect. “You want to keep your distance,” says a sailboat skipper. “Icebergs are most unpredictable! Huge sections can break off from high ones, or when striking bottom, great chunks can break off and shoot up at you. Also, the berg can spin and roll, all of which could be disastrous to anyone venturing too close!”
Ocean floor scouring by icebergs is another aspect of concern. “If a berg’s draft is about equal to the water depth, its base is known to excavate long and deep channels. Such activity in regions of oil exploration would have devastating effects on seafloor installations such as well-heads,” according to one observer.
By now you might be thinking that we would be better off without icebergs. The story of the iceberg, however, is by no means all negative. One Newfoundlander remarked: “Years ago, before refrigeration was common, people in some small coastal villages would retrieve small pieces of berg and drop them into their wells to keep the water icy cold. Another practice was to preserve pieces of berg ice in bins of sawdust to assist in the production of homemade ice cream.”
Tourists are especially attracted to these huge mountains of floating glacial ice. They seek vantage points on Newfoundland’s rugged coastline to get a panoramic view of the Atlantic and feast their eyes on these sea giants. Cameras click to capture the moment on film.
Icebergs also have the potential to furnish an almost endless supply of fresh drinking water. Distilling and bottling iceberg water could eventually become a feasible venture in this day of unprecedented water pollution. On a large scale, it may seem to be a simple matter to locate a giant “ice cube” and tow it to port for processing. In reality, it is a colossal challenge that so far has proved formidable.
A Wonder of Jehovah’s Creation
Thus, when we view these towering, glistening wonders of the sea, our thoughts turn to our Creator, who put them there. Like the psalmist, we say: “How many your works are, O Jehovah! All of them in wisdom you have made. The earth is full of your productions.” He adds: “Your works are wonderful.”—Psalm 104:24; 139:14.
Truly, Jehovah is a wonder-working Creator. How we long to know him better! We can do so by paying attention to his Word.—Romans 11:33.
[Box on page 18]
International Ice Patrol
After the Titanic ocean liner tragedy, the International Ice Patrol (IIP) was established in 1914 to determine the location of icebergs, forecast their movement based on ocean and wind currents, and then supply ice warnings to the public. With a view to providing protection from these crystal giants of the sea, every effort has been put forth to accumulate knowledge of the characteristics and behavior of ice. The technology being used includes visual and radar surveillance by aircraft, commercial ship ice-sighting reports, satellite photography, and oceanographic analyses and forecasts.
[Picture on page 16, 17]