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Iceberg in the Arctic. Iceberg in the Arctic with its underside exposed.jpg
Iceberg in the Arctic.

An iceberg is a large piece of freshwater ice that has broken off a glacier or an ice shelf and is floating freely in open (salt) water. [1] [2] Another name for iceberg is "ice mountain". Small bits of disintegrating icebergs are called "growlers" or "bergy bits".

Fresh water naturally occurring water with low concentrations of dissolved salts

Fresh water is any naturally occurring water except seawater and brackish water. Fresh water includes water in ice sheets, ice caps, glaciers, icebergs, bogs, ponds, lakes, rivers, streams, and even underground water called groundwater. Fresh water is generally characterized by having low concentrations of dissolved salts and other total dissolved solids. Though the term specifically excludes seawater and brackish water, it does include mineral-rich waters such as chalybeate springs.

Ice water frozen into the solid state

Ice is water frozen into a solid state. Depending on the presence of impurities such as particles of soil or bubbles of air, it can appear transparent or a more or less opaque bluish-white color.

Glacier Persistent body of ice that is moving under its own weight

A glacier is a persistent body of dense ice that is constantly moving under its own weight; it forms where the accumulation of snow exceeds its ablation over many years, often centuries. Glaciers slowly deform and flow due to stresses induced by their weight, creating crevasses, seracs, and other distinguishing features. They also abrade rock and debris from their substrate to create landforms such as cirques and moraines. Glaciers form only on land and are distinct from the much thinner sea ice and lake ice that form on the surface of bodies of water.


Icebergs are possible on Earth because the oceans are filled with liquid water, a substance less dense when solid than liquid. Planets with oceans consisting of different substances like methane cannot have icebergs, as their chunks of frozen liquid would sink.

Solid solid object

Solid is one of the four fundamental states of matter. In solids particles are closely packed. It is characterized by structural rigidity and resistance to changes of shape or volume. Unlike liquid, a solid object does not flow to take on the shape of its container, nor does it expand to fill the entire volume available to it like a gas does. The atoms in a solid are tightly bound to each other, either in a regular geometric lattice or irregularly. Solids cannot be compressed with little pressure whereas gases can be compressed with little pressure because in gases molecules are loosely packed.

Liquid liquid object

A liquid is a nearly incompressible fluid that conforms to the shape of its container but retains a (nearly) constant volume independent of pressure. As such, it is one of the four fundamental states of matter, and is the only state with a definite volume but no fixed shape. A liquid is made up of tiny vibrating particles of matter, such as atoms, held together by intermolecular bonds. Water is, by far, the most common liquid on Earth. Like a gas, a liquid is able to flow and take the shape of a container. Most liquids resist compression, although others can be compressed. Unlike a gas, a liquid does not disperse to fill every space of a container, and maintains a fairly constant density. A distinctive property of the liquid state is surface tension, leading to wetting phenomena.

Methane simplest organic molecule with one carbon atom and four hydrogen

Methane ( or ) is a chemical compound with the chemical formula CH4 (one atom of carbon and four atoms of hydrogen). It is a group-14 hydride and the simplest alkane, and is the main constituent of natural gas. The relative abundance of methane on Earth makes it an attractive fuel, although capturing and storing it poses challenges due to its gaseous state under normal conditions for temperature and pressure.

Because 90 percent of an iceberg is below the surface and not visible, icebergs have been considered a serious maritime hazard ever since the 1912 loss of the "unsinkable" RMS Titanic, leading to the formation of the International Ice Patrol in 1914.

RMS <i>Titanic</i> British transatlantic passenger liner, launched and foundered in 1912

RMS Titanic was a British passenger liner that sank in the North Atlantic Ocean in 1912, after colliding with an iceberg during her maiden voyage from Southampton to New York City. Of the estimated 2,224 passengers and crew aboard, more than 1,500 died, making it one of modern history's deadliest commercial marine disasters during peacetime. RMS Titanic was the largest ship afloat at the time she entered service and was the second of three Olympic-class ocean liners operated by the White Star Line. She was built by the Harland and Wolff shipyard in Belfast. Thomas Andrews, chief naval architect of the shipyard at the time, died in the disaster.

International Ice Patrol

The International Ice Patrol is an organization with the purpose of monitoring the presence of icebergs in the Atlantic and Arctic Oceans and reporting their movements for safety purposes. It is operated by United States Coast Guard but is funded by the 13 nations interested in trans-Atlantic navigation. As of 2011 the governments contributing to the International Ice Patrol include Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Norway, Panama, Poland, Spain, Sweden, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

The expression "tip of the iceberg", illustrates a difficulty that is only a small, visible part of a larger, complex problem.

The largest iceberg ever reliably recorded was Iceberg B-15A which split off the Ross Ice Shelf in Antarctica in 2000.

Ross Ice Shelf ice shelf in Antarctica

The Ross Ice Shelf is the largest ice shelf of Antarctica. It is several hundred metres thick. The nearly vertical ice front to the open sea is more than 600 kilometres (370 mi) long, and between 15 and 50 metres high above the water surface. Ninety percent of the floating ice, however, is below the water surface.

Northern edge of Iceberg B-15A in the Ross Sea, Antarctica, 29 January 2002 Research on Iceberg B-15A by Josh Landis, National Science Foundation (Image 4) (NSF).jpg
Northern edge of Iceberg B-15A in the Ross Sea, Antarctica, 29 January 2002


Icebergs in Greenland as filmed by NASA in 2015

The word iceberg is a partial loan translation from the Dutch word ijsberg, literally meaning ice mountain, [3] cognate to Danish isbjerg, German Eisberg, Low Saxon Iesbarg and Swedish isberg.

Dutch language West Germanic language

Dutch(Nederlands ) is a West Germanic language spoken by around 23 million people as a first language and 5 million people as a second language, constituting the majority of people in the Netherlands and Belgium. It is the third most widely spoken Germanic language, after its close relatives English and German.

Danish language North Germanic language spoken in Denmark

Danish is a North Germanic language spoken by around six million people, principally in Denmark and in the region of Southern Schleswig in northern Germany, where it has minority language status. Also, minor Danish-speaking communities are found in Norway, Sweden, Spain, the United States, Canada, Brazil, and Argentina. Due to immigration and language shift in urban areas, around 15–20% of the population of Greenland speak Danish as their first language.

German language West Germanic language

German is a West Germanic language that is mainly spoken in Central Europe. It is the most widely spoken and official or co-official language in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, South Tyrol (Italy), the German-speaking Community of Belgium, and Liechtenstein. It is also one of the three official languages of Luxembourg and a co-official language in the Opole Voivodeship in Poland. The languages which are most similar to German are the other members of the West Germanic language branch: Afrikaans, Dutch, English, the Frisian languages, Low German/Low Saxon, Luxembourgish, and Yiddish. There are also strong similarities in vocabulary with Danish, Norwegian and Swedish, although those belong to the North Germanic group. German is the second most widely spoken Germanic language, after English.


Because the density of pure ice is about 920 kg/m3, and that of seawater about 1025 kg/m3, typically about one-tenth of the volume of an iceberg is above water (which follows from Archimedes's Principle of buoyancy). The shape of the underwater portion can be difficult to judge by looking at the portion above the surface.

The visible "tips" of icebergs typically range from 1 to 75 metres (3 to 200 ft) above sea level and weigh 100,000 to 200,000 metric tons (110,000 to 220,000 short tons). The largest known iceberg in the North Atlantic was 168 metres (551 ft) above sea level, reported by the USCG icebreaker East Wind in 1958, making it the height of a 55-story building. These icebergs originate from the glaciers of western Greenland and may have interior temperatures of −15 to −20 °C (5 to −4 °F). [4]

Grotto in an iceberg, photographed during the British Antarctic Expedition of 1911-1913, 5 Jan 1911. Photographer: Herbert Ponting, Alexander Turnbull Library Grotto in an iceberg.jpg
Grotto in an iceberg, photographed during the British Antarctic Expedition of 1911–1913, 5 Jan 1911. Photographer: Herbert Ponting, Alexander Turnbull Library

Winds and currents tend to move icebergs close to coastlines, where they can become frozen into pack ice (one form of sea ice), or drift into shallow waters, where they can come into contact with the seabed, a phenomenon called seabed gouging.

The largest icebergs recorded have been calved, or broken off, from the Ross Ice Shelf of Antarctica. Iceberg B-15, photographed by satellite in 2000, measured 295 by 37 kilometres (183 by 23 mi), with a surface area of 11,000 square kilometres (4,200 sq mi). The largest iceberg on record was an Antarctic tabular iceberg of over 31,000 square kilometres (12,000 sq mi) [335 by 97 kilometres (208 by 60 mi)] sighted 150 miles (240 km) west of Scott Island, in the South Pacific Ocean, by the USS Glacier on November 12, 1956. This iceberg was larger than Belgium. [5]

A small iceberg less than 2 meters (6.6 feet) across that floats with less than 1 meter (3.3 feet) showing above water is called a growler, [6] and is smaller than a bergy bit, which is usually less than 5 meters (15 feet) in size. Both are generally spawned from disintegrating icebergs. [7]

As a piece of iceberg ice melts, it produces a fizzing sound called the "Bergie Seltzer". This sound results when the water-ice interface reaches compressed air bubbles trapped in the ice. As this happens, each bubble bursts, making a "popping" sound. The bubbles contain air trapped in snow layers very early in the history of the ice, that eventually got buried to a given depth (up to several kilometers) and pressurized as it transformed into firn then to glacial ice. [4]


Tabular iceberg, near Brown Bluff in the Antarctic Sound off Tabarin Peninsula Antarctic Sound-2016-Iceberg 02.jpg
Tabular iceberg, near Brown Bluff in the Antarctic Sound off Tabarin Peninsula
Different shapes of icebergs. 1: Tabular; 2: Wedge; 3: Dome; 4: Drydock; 5: Pinnacled; 6: Blocky. Types of Icebergs.svg
Different shapes of icebergs. 1: Tabular; 2: Wedge; 3: Dome; 4: Drydock; 5: Pinnacled; 6: Blocky.
Non-tabular iceberg off Elephant Island in the Southern Ocean South Shetland-2016-Southern Ocean (off Elephant Island)-Iceberg 01.jpg
Non-tabular iceberg off Elephant Island in the Southern Ocean

In addition to size classification, icebergs can be classified on the basis of their shape. The two basic types of iceberg forms are tabular and non-tabular. Tabular icebergs have steep sides and a flat top, much like a plateau, with a length-to-height ratio of more than 5:1. [8]

This type of iceberg, also known as an ice island, [9] can be quite large, as in the case of Pobeda Ice Island. Antarctic icebergs formed by breaking off from an ice shelf, such as the Ross Ice Shelf or Filchner-Ronne Ice Shelf, are typically tabular. The largest icebergs in the world are formed this way.

Non-tabular icebergs have different shapes and include: [10]



The iceberg suspected of sinking the RMS Titanic; a smudge of red paint much like the Titanic's red hull stripe was seen near its base at the waterline. Titanic iceberg.jpg
The iceberg suspected of sinking the RMS Titanic; a smudge of red paint much like the Titanic's red hull stripe was seen near its base at the waterline.

Before the early 1910s, although there had been many fatal sinkings of ships by icebergs, there was no system in place to track icebergs to guard ships against collisions. [11] In 1907, SS Kronprinz Wilhelm , a German liner, had rammed an iceberg and suffered a crushed bow, but was still able to complete her voyage. The advent of steel ship construction led designers to declare their ships "unsinkable".

The April 1912 sinking of the Titanic , which killed 1,518 of its 2,223 passengers and crew, changed all that. For the remainder of the ice season of that year, the United States Navy patrolled the waters and monitored ice flow. In November 1913, the International Conference on the Safety of Life at Sea met in London to devise a more permanent system of observing icebergs. Within three months the participating maritime nations had formed the International Ice Patrol (IIP). The goal of the IIP was to collect data on meteorology and oceanography to measure currents, ice-flow, ocean temperature, and salinity levels. They monitored iceberg dangers near the Grand Banks of Newfoundland and provided the "limits of all known ice" in that vicinity to the maritime community. The IIP published their first records in 1921, which allowed for a year-by-year comparison of iceberg movement.

Technological development

An iceberg being pushed by three U.S. Navy ships in McMurdo Sound, Antarctica McMurdo Sound Glacier-iv.jpg
An iceberg being pushed by three U.S. Navy ships in McMurdo Sound, Antarctica

Aerial surveillance of the seas in the early 1930s allowed for the development of charter systems that could accurately detail the ocean currents and iceberg locations. In 1945, experiments tested the effectiveness of radar in detecting icebergs. A decade later, oceanographic monitoring outposts were established for the purpose of collecting data; these outposts continue to serve in environmental study. A computer was first installed on a ship for the purpose of oceanographic monitoring in 1964, which allowed for a faster evaluation of data. By the 1970s, icebreaking ships were equipped with automatic transmissions of satellite photographs of ice in Antarctica. Systems for optical satellites had been developed but were still limited by weather conditions. In the 1980s, drifting buoys were used in Antarctic waters for oceanographic and climate research. They are equipped with sensors that measure ocean temperature and currents.

Acoustic monitoring of an iceberg.

Side looking airborne radar (SLAR) made it possible to acquire images regardless of weather conditions. On November 4, 1995, Canada launched RADARSAT-1. Developed by the Canadian Space Agency, it provides images of Earth for scientific and commercial purposes. This system was the first to use synthetic aperture radar (SAR), which sends microwave energy to the ocean surface and records the reflections to track icebergs. The European Space Agency launched ENVISAT (an observation satellite that orbits the Earth's poles) [12] on March 1, 2002. ENVISAT employs advanced synthetic aperture radar (ASAR) technology, which can detect changes in surface height accurately. The Canadian Space Agency launched RADARSAT-2 in December 2007, which uses SAR and multi-polarization modes and follows the same orbit path as RADARSAT-1. [13]

Modern monitoring

Icebergs are monitored worldwide by the U.S. National Ice Center (NIC), established in 1995, which produces analyses and forecasts of Arctic, Antarctic, Great Lakes and Chesapeake Bay ice conditions. More than 95% of the data used in its sea ice analyses are derived from the remote sensors on polar-orbiting satellites that survey these remote regions of the Earth.

Iceberg A22A in the South Atlantic Ocean Iceberg A22A, South Atlantic Ocean.jpg
Iceberg A22A in the South Atlantic Ocean

The NIC is the only organization that names and tracks all Antarctic Icebergs. It assigns each iceberg larger than 10 nautical miles (19 km) along at least one axis a name composed of a letter indicating its point of origin and a running number. The letters used are as follows: [14]

A longitude 0° to 90° W (Bellingshausen Sea, Weddell Sea)
B longitude 90° W to 180° (Amundsen Sea, Eastern Ross Sea)
C longitude 90° E to 180° (Western Ross Sea, Wilkes Land)
D longitude 0° to 90° E (Amery Ice Shelf, Eastern Weddell Sea)

Iceberg B15 calved from the Ross Ice Shelf in 2000 and initially had an area of 11,000 square kilometres (4,200 sq mi). It broke apart in November 2002. The largest remaining piece of it, Iceberg B-15A, with an area of 3,000 square kilometres (1,200 sq mi), was still the largest iceberg on Earth until it ran aground and split into several pieces October 27, 2005, an event that was observed by seismographs both on the iceberg and across Antarctica. [15] It has been hypothesized that this breakup may also have been abetted by ocean swell generated by an Alaskan storm 6 days earlier and 13,500 kilometres (8,400 mi) away. [16] [17]

Recent large icebergs

The calving of Iceberg A-38 off Filchner-Ronne Ice Shelf Iceberg A-38.jpg
The calving of Iceberg A-38 off Filchner-Ronne Ice Shelf

See also

Related Research Articles

Ice shelf floating platform of ice on the ocean surface, at outlet of a glacier or ice sheet

An ice shelf is a thick suspended platform of ice that forms where a glacier or ice sheet flows down to a coastline and onto the ocean surface. Ice shelves are only found in Antarctica, Greenland, Canada, and the Russian Arctic. The boundary between the floating ice shelf and the anchor ice that feeds it is called the grounding line. The thickness of ice shelves can range from about 100 m (330 ft) to 1,000 m (3,300 ft).

Filchner-Ronne Ice Shelf ice shelf in Antarctica

The Filchner-Ronne Ice Shelf, also known as Ronne-Filchner Ice Shelf, is an Antarctic ice shelf bordering the Weddell Sea.

Recovery Glacier

The Recovery Glacier is a glacier flowing west along the southern side of the Shackleton Range in Antarctica. First seen from the air and examined from the ground by the Commonwealth Trans-Antarctic Expedition in 1957, it was so named because of the recovery of the expedition's vehicles which repeatedly broke into bridged crevasses on this glacier during the early stages of the crossing of Antarctica. It is at least 100 km (60 mi) long and 64 km (40 mi) wide at its mouth.

Larsen Ice Shelf Ice shelf in Antarctica

The Larsen Ice Shelf is a long ice shelf in the northwest part of the Weddell Sea, extending along the east coast of the Antarctic Peninsula from Cape Longing to Smith Peninsula. It is named for Captain Carl Anton Larsen, the master of the Norwegian whaling vessel Jason, who sailed along the ice front as far as 68°10' South during December 1893. In finer detail, the Larsen Ice Shelf is a series of shelves that occupy distinct embayments along the coast. From north to south, the segments are called Larsen A, Larsen B, and Larsen C by researchers who work in the area. Further south, Larsen D and the much smaller Larsen E, F and G are also named.

McMurdo Sound landform

McMurdo Sound and its ice-clogged waters extends about 55 kilometres (34 mi) long and wide. The sound connects the Ross Sea to the north with the Ross Ice Shelf cavity to the south via Haskell Strait. The strait is largely covered by the McMurdo Ice Shelf. The Royal Society Range rises from sea level to 4,205 metres (13,796 ft) on the western shoreline. Ross Island, an historic jumping-off point for polar explorers, designates the eastern boundary. The active volcano Mount Erebus at 3,794 metres (12,448 ft) dominates Ross Island. Antarctica's largest scientific base, the United States' McMurdo Station, as well as the New Zealand Scott Base are on the southern shore of the island. Less than 10 percent of McMurdo Sound's shoreline is free of ice. It is the southernmost navigable body of water in the world.

Bay of Whales Bay

The Bay of Whales was a natural ice harbor, or iceport, indenting the front of Ross Ice Shelf just north of Roosevelt Island, Antarctica. It is the southernmost point of open ocean not only of the Ross Sea, but worldwide. The Ross Sea extends much further south—as far as the Gould Coast, some 200 miles (320 km) from the South Pole—but most of that area is covered by the Ross Ice Shelf rather than open sea.

Iceberg B-15 Largest recorded iceberg. Calved from the Ross Ice Shelf of Antarctica in March 2000

Iceberg B-15 was the world's largest recorded iceberg. It measured around 295 kilometres (183 mi) long and 37 kilometres (23 mi) wide, with a surface area of 11,000 square kilometres (4,200 sq mi)—larger than the whole island of Jamaica. Calved from the Ross Ice Shelf of Antarctica in March 2000, Iceberg B-15 broke up into smaller icebergs, the largest of which was named Iceberg B-15A. In 2003, B-15A drifted away from Ross Island into the Ross Sea and headed north, eventually breaking up into several smaller icebergs in October 2005.

Drygalski Ice Tongue glacier in Antarctica

The Drygalski Ice Tongue or Drygalski Barrier or Drygalski Glacier Tongue is a glacier in Antarctica, on the Scott Coast, in the northern McMurdo Sound of Antarctica's Ross Dependency, 240 kilometres (150 mi) north of Ross Island. The Drygalski Ice Tongue is stable by the standards of Antarctica's icefloes, and stretches 70 kilometres (43 mi) out to sea from the David Glacier, reaching the sea from a valley in the Prince Albert Mountains of Victoria Land. The Drygalski Ice Tongue ranges from 14 to 24 kilometres wide.

Mertz Glacier glacier

Mertz Glacier is a heavily crevassed glacier in George V Coast of East Antarctica. It is the source of a glacial prominence that historically has extended northward into the Southern Ocean, the Mertz Glacial Tongue. It is named in honor of the Swiss explorer Xavier Mertz.

Sulzberger Bay bay

Sulzberger Bay is a bay between Fisher Island and Vollmer Island, along the coast of King Edward VII Land. Discovered by the Byrd Antarctic Expedition on December 5, 1929, and named by Byrd for Arthur H. Sulzberger, publisher of The New York Times, a supporter of the Byrd expeditions in 1928–1930 and 1933–1935.

Iceberg B-9 Antarctic iceberg that calved in 1987

Iceberg B-9 was an iceberg that calved in 1987. The iceberg measured 154 kilometres (96 mi) long and 35 kilometres (22 mi) wide with a total area of 5,390 square kilometres (2,080 sq mi). It is one of the longest icebergs ever recorded. The calving took place immediately east of the calving site of Iceberg B-15 and carried away Little America V.

Totten Glacier

Totten Glacier is a large glacier draining a major portion of the East Antarctic Ice Sheet, through the Budd Coast of Wilkes Land in the Australian Antarctic Territory. The catchment drained by the glacier is estimated at 538,000 km2 (208,000 sq mi), extending approximately 1,100 km (680 mi) into the interior and holds the potential to raise sea level by at least 3.5 m (11 ft). Totten drains northeastward from the continental ice but turns northwestward at the coast where it terminates in a prominent tongue close east of Cape Waldron. It was first delineated from aerial photographs taken by USN Operation Highjump (1946–47), and named by Advisory Committee on Antarctic Names (US-ACAN) for George M. Totten, midshipman on USS Vincennes of the United States Exploring Expedition (1838–42), who assisted Lieutenant Charles Wilkes with correction of the survey data obtained by the expedition.

Erebus Ice Tongue

The Erebus Ice Tongue is a mountain outlet glacier and the seaward extension of Erebus Glacier from Ross Island. It projects 11 kilometres (6.8 mi) into McMurdo Sound from the Ross Island coastline near Cape Evans, Antarctica. The glacier tongue varies in thickness from 50 metres (160 ft) at the snout to 300 metres (980 ft) at the point where it is grounded on the shoreline. Explorers from Robert F. Scott's Discovery Expedition (1901–1904) named and charted the ice tongue.

Pobeda Ice Island, original Russian name остров Победы, is an ice island in the Mawson Sea. It is located 160 km (99 mi) off the coast of Queen Mary Land, East Antarctica. This island, which exists periodically, is formed by the running aground of a tabular iceberg.

Ice calving breaking of ice chunks from the edge of a glacier

Ice calving, also known as glacier calving or iceberg calving, is the breaking of ice chunks from the edge of a glacier. It is a form of ice ablation or ice disruption and is normally caused by the glacier expanding. It is the sudden release and breaking away of a mass of ice from a glacier, iceberg, ice front, ice shelf, or crevasse. The ice that breaks away can be classified as an iceberg, but may also be a growler, bergy bit, or a crevasse wall breakaway.

Petermann Glacier glacier in Greenland

Petermann Glacier is a large glacier located in North-West Greenland to the east of Nares Strait. It connects the Greenland ice sheet to the Arctic Ocean at 81°10' north latitude, near Hans Island.

Wilkins Sound sound

Wilkins Sound is a seaway in Antarctica that is largely occupied by the Wilkins Ice Shelf. It is located on the southwest side of the Antarctic Peninsula between the concave western coastline of Alexander Island and the shores of Charcot Island and Latady Island farther to the west.

Ice mélange A mixture of sea ice types, icebergs, and snow without a clearly defined floe

Ice mélange refers to a mixture of sea ice types, icebergs, and snow without a clearly defined floe that forms from shearing and fracture at the ice front. Ice mélange is commonly the result of an ice calving event where ice breaks off the edge of a glacier. Ice mélange affects many of the Earth's processes including glacier calving, ocean wave generation and frequency, generation of seismic waves, atmosphere and ocean interactions, and tidewater glacier systems. Ice mélange is possibly the largest granular material on Earth, and is quasi-2-dimensional.

Iceberg A-68 Antarctic iceberg from the Larsen C Ice Shelf in July 2017

Iceberg A-68 calved from the Larsen C Ice Shelf in July 2017. With a surface area of 5,800 square kilometres, twice the size of Luxembourg, larger than Delaware and weighing one trillion tonnes, it is one of the largest recorded icebergs, the largest being B-15 which measured 11,000 square kilometres before breaking up. The calving of A-68 reduced the overall size of the Larsen C shelf by 12 percent.


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