Iceberg (Encyclopedia of Science)
An iceberg is a large mass of free-floating ice that has broken away from a glacier. (Glaciers are flowing masses of ice, created by years of snowfall and cold temperatures.) Beautiful and dangerous, icebergs are carried about the ocean surface until they melt. Most icebergs come from the glaciers of Greenland or from the massive ice sheets of Antarctica.
The process of icebergs breaking off of a glacier is called calving. Icebergs consist of freshwater ice, pieces of debris, and trapped bubbles of air. The combination of ice and air bubbles causes sunlight shining on the icebergs to color the ice spectacular shades of blue, green, and white. Icebergs come in a variety of unusual shapes and sizes, some long and flat, others towering and massive.
An iceberg floats because it is lighter and less dense than the salty seawater, but only a small part of the iceberg is visible above sea level. Typically, about 80 to 90 percent of an iceberg is below sea level. Scientists who study icebergs classify true icebergs as pieces of ice that are higher than 16 feet (5 meters) above sea level and wider than 98 feet (30 meters) at the water line. The largest icebergs can be taller than 230 feet (70 meters) and wider than 738 feet (225 meters). Chunks of ice more massive than this are called ice islands. Ice islands are much more common in the Southern Hemisphere, where they break off from...
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Icebergs (World of Earth Science)
An iceberg is a large mass of free-floating ice that has broken away from a glacier. Beautiful and dangerous, icebergs wander over the ocean surface until they melt. Most icebergs come from the glaciers of Greenland or from the massive ice sheets of Antarctica. A few icebergs originate from smaller Alaskan glaciers. Snow produces the glaciers and ice sheets so, ultimately, icebergs originate from snow. In contrast, "sea ice" originates from freezing salt water. When fragments break off of a glacier, icebergs are formed in a process called calving.
Icebergs consist of freshwater ice, pieces of debris, and trapped bubbles of air. The combination of ice and air bubbles causes sunlight shining on the icebergs to refract, coloring the ice spectacular shades of blue, green, and white. Color may also indicate age; blue icebergs are old, and green ones contain algae and are young. Icebergs come in a variety of shapes and sizes, some long and flat, others towering and massive.
An iceberg floats because it is lighter and less dense than salty seawater, but only a small part of the iceberg is visible above the surface of the sea. Typically, about 800% of an iceberg is below sea level, so they drift with ocean currents rather than wind. Scientists who study icebergs classify true icebergs as pieces of ice that are greater than 16 ft (5 m) above sea level and wider than 98 ft (30 m) at the water line. Of course, icebergs may be much larger. Smaller pieces of floating ice are called "bergy bits" (3.36 ft or 1 m tall and 338 ft or 100 m wide) or "growlers" (less than 3.3 ft or 1 m tall and less than 33 ft or 10 m wide). The largest icebergs can be taller than 230 ft (70 m) and wider than 738 ft (225 m). Chunks of ice more massive than this are called ice islands. Ice islands are much more common in the Southern Hemisphere, where they break off the Antarctic ice sheets.
Because of the unusual forms they may take, icebergs are also classified by their shape. Flat icebergs are called tabular. Icebergs that are tall and flat are called blocky. Domed icebergs are shaped like a turtle shell, rounded, with gentle slopes. Drydock icebergs have been eroded by waves so that they are somewhat U-shaped. Perhaps the most spectacular are the pinnacle icebergs, which resemble mountain tops, with one or more central peaks reaching skyward.
The life span of an iceberg depends on its size but is typically about two years for icebergs in the Northern Hemisphere. Because they are larger, icebergs from Antarctica may last for several more years. Chief among the destructive forces that work against icebergs are wave action and heat. Wave action can break icebergs into smaller pieces and can cause icebergs to knock into each other and fracture. Relatively warm air and water temperature gradually melt the ice. Because icebergs float, they drift with water currents towards the equator into warmer water. Icebergs may drift as far as 8.5 mi (14 km) per day. Most icebergs have completely melted by the time they reach about 40 degrees latitude (north or south). There have been rare occasions when icebergs have drifted as far south as Bermuda (32 degrees north latitude), which is located about 900 mi (1,400 km) east of Charleston, South Carolina. In the Atlantic Ocean, they have also been found as far east as the Azores, islands in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Spain.
One of the best-known icebergs is the one that struck and sank the RMS Titanic on April 14, 1912, when the ship was on her maiden voyage. More than 1,500 people lost their lives in that disaster, which occurred near Newfoundland, Canada. As a result of the tragedy, the Coast Guard began monitoring icebergs to protect shipping interests in the North Atlantic sea lanes. Counts of icebergs drifting into the North Atlantic shipping lanes vary from year to year, with little predictability. During some years, no icebergs drift into the lanes; other years are marked by hundreds or mores many as 1,572 have been counted in a single year. Many ships now carry their own radar equipment to detect icebergs. As recently as 1959, a Danish ship equipped with radar struck an iceberg and sank, resulting in 95 deaths. Some ships even rely on infrared sensors from airplanes and satellites. Sonar is also used to locate icebergs.
Modern iceberg research continues to focus on improving methods of tracking and monitoring icebergs, and on learning more about iceberg deterioration. In 1995, a huge iceberg broke free from the Larsen ice shelf in Antarctica. This iceberg was 48 mi (77 km) long, 23 mi (37 km) wide, and 600 ft (183 m) thick. The iceberg was approximately the size of the country of Luxembourg and isolated James Ross Island (one of Antarctica's islands) for the first time in recorded history. The megaberg was monitored by airplanes and satellites to make sure it didn't put ships at peril. According to some scientists, this highly unusual event could be evidence of global warming. Surges in the calving of icebergs known as Heinrich events are also known to be caused by irregular motions of Earth around the Sun that cause ocean waters of varying temperatures and salinity to change their circulation patterns. These cycles were common during the last glacial period, and glacial debris was carried by "iceberg armadas" to locations like Florida and the coast of Chile. Scientists have "captured" icebergs for study including crushing to measure their strength. It has been proposed to tow icebergs to drought-stricken regions of the world to solve water shortage problems; however, the cost and potential environmental impact of such an undertaking have so far discouraged any such attempts.
See also Glaciation; Ocean circulation and currents