Nothing lasts forever, especially an iceberg drifting away from its frigid home. This coffin-shaped iceberg was spotted by astronauts on the International Space Station as it drifted northwards. It split off from a much larger iceberg about 18 years ago, and is moving into warmer and warmer waters.
In December 2014, designer and musician Alex Cornell traveled to Antarctica. While he saw many unique views of the Antarctic landscape, one extremely rare view stands out. He saw an iceberg that had recently flipped over, exposing the usually unseen – but gorgeous — underside.
“Icebergs are typically white, like you see in pictures,” Cornell told Universe Today. “But this one had recently flipped over and had this arresting alien-green color to it. It looked a lot more like a parked spacecraft than a floating iceberg.”
He said the experience was “magical.”
He traveled with family members and brought his camera rig, hoping to shoot the glaciers, ice and penguins.
“We saw thousands of icebergs of course, but only one revealed its gorgeous underside — the 90% ‘below the surface’ you hear so much about,” he said.
Scientists say that icebergs will flip over when the “topside” melts enough to change the shape of the iceberg, creating a shift in equilibrium.
Why is the underside so different in color?
Ice is full of tiny air bubbles that scatter all color wavelengths the same amount, usually giving the ice a white appearance. But, according to scientists at Ohio State University, if the ice is compressed – as it would be for the underwater portion of the iceberg — the bubbles are squeezed out and the blue light is scattered much more than other colors – making the ice appear blue. Also, algae often grow on the underside of icebergs, producing green stripes that are only revealed when the ice rolls over and exposes the previously underwater sections.
“I shot these pictures from a Zodiac (boat) which allowed me to get pretty close,” Cornell said via email. “There’s always a danger of the iceberg flipping back over, so we couldn’t get *too* close.”
“From an artistic perspective, they are beautiful photos, but their beauty is the result of what was captured. I was just lucky to be there to snap it. You could have pointed an iPhone at this thing and come away with something spectacular. What luck to get to share something so magical!”
Thanks to Alex for sharing his unique images with Universe Today. See more of his wonderful imagery from his Antarctica trip on his website.
As an April Fool’s joke in 1978, Australian businessman Dick Smith claimed he was towing an iceberg from Antarctica to Sydney Harbour. He used a barge covered with white plastic and fire extinguisher foam in effort to convince those who gathered at the harbor to see it. Apparently, however, the idea is not such a joke after all. A team of engineers from France have studied the concept, did a simulation and found that icebergs floating around in the ocean could be tethered and towed to places that are experiencing a severe drought and water shortages.
The idea originally was conceived in the 1970’s by an graduate student named Georges Mougin, who even received some funds from a Saudi prince to test the idea, but not much came of it.
According to an article on PhysOrg, the French engineers looked into the idea and concluded that towing an iceberg from, for example, the waters around Newfoundland to the Canary Islands off the northwest coast of Africa, could be done, and would take just under five months when towed by a tugboat outfitted with a kite sail, traveling at about one knot.
The cost would be almost ten million dollars, however.
According to a simulated test, the iceberg would lose only 38 percent of its seven ton mass during the trip, if it was fitted with an insulated skirt.
Apparently Mougin is encouraged by the results and now at age 86 is trying to raise money for an actual iceberg-tow.
Read more details on PhysOrg.
Taken by NASA astronaut and Expedition 27 flight engineer Ron Garan, this image shows the Petermann Ice Island (PII-A) currently adrift off the coast of Labrador. The island is a chunk of ice that broke off the Petermann Glacier in Greenland in August of 2010 and has been moving slowly southward ever since. It is currently about 21 square miles (55 square km) in size – nearly the same area as Manhattan!
Garan’s original photo was posted to his Twitter feed earlier today… I cropped the full-size version, rotated it so that south is down and edited it to bring out surface details in the island. Ridges in its surface can be seen as well as many bright blue meltwater ponds.
Overlaid on the left side is an approximate scale size of Manhattan. This thing is BIG!
PII-A is currently drifting toward Newfoundland but is unlikely to reach land… its base will run against the sea floor long before that. But it has been reported to be posing a problem for ships and offshore oil rigs. (Read more about PII-A on NASA’s Earth Observatory site here.)
When he’s not performing other duties aboard the Space Station, Ron Garan posts photos of Earth from orbit on his Twitter feed (@Astro_Ron) and also on his website FragileOasis.org, thereby sharing his unique and privileged perspective on our world. Founded by Garan, Fragile Oasis is a site that supports and publicizes many global projects supporting humanitarian and environmental missions. Visit, become a member, and you too can “learn, act, and make a difference.” After all, who better than an astronaut would know how much our world is connected, and how fragile it really is!
Image credit: NASA / Ron Garan. Edited by Jason Major.
PS: If you want an idea of how something like this would look like up close, check out this video below taken from a ship near one of the smaller pieces of the ice island!
Jason Major is a graphic designer, photo enthusiast and space blogger. Visit his website Lights in the Dark and follow him on Twitter @JPMajor or on Facebook for the most up-to-date astronomy awesomeness!
Iceberg B17-B Adrift Off the Southwestern Coast of Australia as seen on Dec. 11, 2009. Credit: NASA Earth Observatory
A city-sized iceberg that has been making its way towards Australia’s southwestern coast is now breaking up into hundreds of smaller icebergs as it drifts into warmer waters. This is creating potentially hazardous conditions for ships trying to navigate the region. The iceberg, known as B17B, was spotted last week on satellite imaging about 1,100 miles (1,700 kilometers) off Western Australia state, prompting Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology to issue a shipping alert. When first observed, B17B was a whopping 140 square kilometers (54 square miles). Now, it is about 115 square kilometers (44 square miles), or around 18 kilometers (11 miles) long and 8 kilometers (5 miles) wide, said glaciologist Neal Young of the Australian Antarctic Division. Still, that is one huge iceberg.
B17B has broken up into hundreds of smaller icebergs, some up to several kilometers wide, and spread over more than 1,000 kilometers of ocean. Young said he expects it to dissipate, but is unsure when that will happen.
The iceberg is one of several that split off in Antarctica in 2000 when parts of two major ice shelves — the Ross Sea Ice Shelf and Ronne Ice Shelf — fractured.
Icebergs frequently split or “calve” off Antarctica’s ice shelves, and they often get swept up in strong circumpolar currents that carry them around the icy continent. Occasionally icebergs drift northward, out of the continent’s orbit. Only rarely, however, do icebergs drift as far north as Australia without melting, which is why scientists were surprised to spot this especially gigantic iceberg in its current location.
Sources: NASA Earth Observatory, AP
Here are some cool iceberg pictures.