How much would you pay for a nice, cool drink of iceberg water? In Canada we may not be prepared to pay much. However, considering that 1 in 10 people in the world do not have access to safe drinking water, it becomes a little more valuable.
If you took all the water on earth, 97% of it would be undrinkable. Of the remaining water, up to 2% of that is frozen in glaciers, ice and snow. The remaining 1% is fresh groundwater, soil moisture, lakes, swamps and rivers.
Icebergs are an incredible source of fresh, clean water. The largest iceberg on record in the north was near Baffin Island in 1882. An average iceberg is around 200,000 tonnes, but this one was over nine billion tonnes! It was 13 kilometres long, six kilometres wide and stood about 20 metres above the water. This iceberg had enough fresh water to supply the world’s population with one litre a day for over four years.
The icebergs you may see off the coast of Newfoundland come mostly from the glaciers of Greenland. Over thousands of years, snow is packed down, layer upon layer until the accumulated weight turns the lower layers into ice. Under its own weight, a glacier moves outward. The glaciers in Greenland move relatively fast at 7 km per year. As a glacier moves into the ocean, pieces of it break off and become icebergs. Since icebergs are made from snow, icebergs are pure fresh water.
They drift south with the cold Labrador current and can take 2 to 3 years to reach Newfoundland. They melt fairly quickly once they reach the Atlantic and rarely make it much farther south than 40º north latitude, a few hundred kilometres south of St. John’s. They make a fizzing, popping sound as they melt as air trapped for thousands of years is released. Although an iceberg may look big from what is above the water, 7/8ths of it is below the water!
Icebergs can be dangerous if you get too close to them because occasionally they decide to roll over. This can make harvesting icebergs for fresh water particularly dangerous.
The best time to see icebergs off Newfoundland is in the spring and early summer.
BOOKS: Lulie the Iceberg, by Her Imperial Highness Princess Takamado, Kodansha International, 1998 (picture book)
FILM: Watch the trailer to Chasing Ice.