News Story - Scientists discover new mechanism at work breaking-up icebergs
Date: 29 Oct 2012
Findings to be featured on BBC Two series Operation Iceberg airing this week
An international team of scientists has discovered a previously unknown mechanism by which large tabular icebergs break up out at sea as part of a study carried out on the Peterman Iceberg in Baffin Bay over the summer. Scientists observed that the gradual creation of a huge underwater ice foot produced so much buoyancy that it broke large chunks off the main iceberg thus causing the iceberg to slowly disintegrate. This discovery was captured on camera as a film crew followed the expedition for Operation Iceberg, a two part BBC Two series going out this week.
Also on the expedition was one of the world leading experts on ice science, Prof Peter Wadhams of Cambridge University, who believes their observation of the process is unique: “We have discovered a new mechanism. People don’t normally sit beside melting icebergs in a ship. Normally when they come across an iceberg they give it a wide berth. So in a way, we’re the first people to be doing it.”
Alon Stern of New York University was responsible for taking the temperature measurements of the sea water around the iceberg, including key data gathered by the BBC’s dive team. These readings confirmed that the deeper water measured -1.5 degrees Celsius, and was therefore able to protect the ice foot from melting.
Understanding the mechanism by which icebergs break up is important for shipping in the North Atlantic. It is also becoming clear that because of climate change, the number of tabular icebergs in Arctic seas is increasing. Keith Nicholls added: “In recent years we’ve been seeing a lot more big tabular icebergs come off the Greenland ice sheet and they’re now ending up in Baffin Bay. That’s a change and the only reason that can change is because the climate around Greenland is changing.”
To watch the team in action, tune into Operation Iceberg, at 9pm on BBC Two on Tuesday 30th of October and Thursday 1st of November.You can read Dr Keith Nicholls' blog here.
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