Expect more bergs with global warming

James McLeod
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As Greenland ice sheet melts, sea levels will rise and ice will float south

Anybody who’s driven to the top of Signal Hill or logged onto Facebook and seen the pictures already knows that there’s a lot of icebergs out there this year.
And along with all the icebergs, there are a lot of people saying that this sort of thing must be a sign of global warming.

According to several Memorial University researchers who study climate, sea ice and icebergs, the answer is yes, climate change will probably lead to more icebergs in the waters off Newfoundland — at least for a while.

Scientists who study climate change can be pretty cagey when it comes to attributing specific events to the wider trend of global warming.

And when it comes to icebergs, it’s even difficult to say for sure if the big white chunks of ice offshore are there as a consequence of carbon emissions and greenhouse gases.

“We rarely have years that are average — we either have tons or none,” said Steve Bruneau, a researcher in Memorial University’s faculty of engineering and applied science. “Sometimes in between, but the point is the variation is huge from one year to the next.”

Bruneau said that even in the years when thousands of icebergs pass by Newfoundland and head farther south, people might not notice because it can happen beyond the horizon and out of sight.


The long term

John Jacobs, who studies Arctic climate and climate change at MUN, said that each year the number of icebergs is likely to fluctuate, but over the long term people should expect to see more icebergs because of the warming climate.

As the temperature gets warmer, chunks of ice fall off the glaciers —  until it’s just water flowing into the sea.

“As far as the Greenland ice sheet is concerned, as the Earth warms, we may get episodes of large discharges of ice, but eventually won’t anymore. It’ll be long after our time,” Jacobs said.

“Sooner or later, if the temperatures continue to rise as they’re projected to do — two, four degrees by the end of this century — the Greenland ice sheet is going to lose a lot of mass,” Jacobs continued.

All that melting ice is going to have other effects for Newfoundland and Labrador — rising sea levels.

“Within the next hundred years, maybe a half-metre to a metre rise, and then you still have to think about storm surges and tidal effects on top of that,” said Lev Tarasov, who studies sea level rise and glaciology at MUN.

“There will be coastal effects for us, but the bigger effect is what’s going to happen to the world geopolitical situation. … I think there’s a third of Bangladesh within a metre of the ocean, and there’s a lot of people in Bangladesh. If they lose their country, where are all those people going to go?”

Right now, though, the icebergs are great for tourism, according to tour operator Stan Cook.

Operating kayak tours out of Cape Broyle, Cook said he can pinpoint exactly when people started to get excited about icebergs.

“Ever since the movie ‘Titanic,’ I think,” Cook said. “Before then, people weren’t too keen on them, but now, after ‘Titanic,’ everyone wants to see icebergs, and they’re so beautiful and they’re so interesting to watch, we get a lot of guests.”



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Geographic location: Greenland, Newfoundland and Labrador, Arctic Bangladesh Cape Broyle

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Recent comments

  • wavy
    June 13, 2014 - 07:03

    On a lighter note, have "the oceans reached a critical de-salinization point" yet? Heard Dennis Quaid earnestly exclaim this concern to his fellow climatologists in a (really crappy) movie once.

  • wavy
    June 13, 2014 - 06:49

    And here I was thinking I was the only one thinking bad thoughts about the bumper crop of ice bergs this year. While others have been marvelling, a little voice inside my head keeps saying "this can't be a good thing". Each berg, especially the really BIG ones, feels like a little piece of something (I dunno- call it "mother nature" or whatever fits your brand) dying. Ice bergs, after all, are a non-renewable resource. Enjoy them while you can, I guesss. You marvel; I shudder.

    • alvin
      June 13, 2014 - 10:23

      I grew up on the northern tip of NL. There were many more Icebergs back in the sixties than there are today. Explain dat.

    • wavy
      June 13, 2014 - 18:11

      The industrial revolution works in mysterious ways.