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Ice conditions in Strait of Belle Isle may send icebergs down western Newfoundland coast


Marine navigation might be a nightmare in the Strait of Belle Isle, but there could be a silver lining to the icy situation for western Newfoundland.

Icebergs may take an unfamiliar route down the province's west coast this year.

Persistent easterly winds have driven the pack ice flowing down from the Labrador coast into the Strait of Belle Isle and onto the shores of southern Labrador.

That could mean a rare opportunity to spot icebergs along the western Newfoundland coast as the spring progresses.

According to the Canadian Coast Guard, the ice pack is currently four feet thick or more in places. Combined with chunks of older, harder ice and unseasonably cold temperatures, the ice has cemented together to form a formidable navigational obstacle.

The pressure on the shoreline is so great that the Terry Fox, Canada’s second biggest icebreaker, cannot get through it.

The ferry MV Apollo, which is the link between southern Labrador and the Northern Peninsula on the Newfoundland side of the Strait of Belle Isle, is docked in Blanc Sablon and not going anywhere for the foreseeable future until the ice eases up.

“There was a bit of a southwesterly blow today, but it was not enough wind to move the ice and the pressure there is going to remain,” Rebecca Acton-Bond, the Canadian Coast Guard’s acting superintendent of ice operations in Atlantic Canada, said Wednesday.

“It’s like a wall of solid ice. The captains I have spoken with say they have never seen anything like these conditions in this area ever.”

Acton-Bond said there needs to be strong westerly or southwesterly winds, somewhere in the 25- to 35-knot range, for more than half of a day to get vessels moving again.

The only thing is, a shift in the wind could just move all the thick ice onto the western Newfoundland side and prevent the ferry from getting across to there.

The winds forecasted for today are nowhere near strong enough, Acton-Bond noted, and are expected to turn to relatively strong northeasterly winds again Friday and Saturday.

“More northeasterly winds certainly are not going to help this situation on the Blanc Sablon side not one bit,” she said.

The ice pack that has been driven into the Strait of Belle Isle has also brought icebergs along with it, which could eventually make for some great sightseeing along the western coast of Newfoundland.

Icebergs, which form their own marine hazard, normally follow the ocean currents and don’t often find their way into the Strait of Belle Isle.

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