Giants of the Ice Blue Water

By William Bishop

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    If you think that giants do not exist, consider the mountains of ice that float in Arctic and Antarctic waters. Then place an ice cube in a glass of water. You will see that only a very small part of the cube is above the surface. So it is with icebergs. Approximately one-eighth of their total mass is all that is visible above water, so they are really eight times as large as they appear. They are indeed giants!

    Arctic icebergs were once part of the never-thawing ice cap that covers most of Greenland. As the huge sheet of land ice expands, the portions that extend into the water break off with enormous force. This action is called calving, and the part that floats away sometimes measures nearly a mile across and can be as high as a ten-story building. Explorers have been known to establish bases and make scientific studies on these continually moving giants.

    Unlike the relatively flat (and much larger) icebergs of the Antarctic, those from Greenland often develop majestic pinnacles and eerie caves, formed by the eroding action of the sun and the rough seawater. Some of these icebergs float two thousand miles or more into waters traveled by ships of many nations. Because the much larger, submerged portion of an iceberg often protrudes at extreme angles beneath the water’s surface, a ship that appears to be passing one safely can be ripped apart by a hidden shelf of ice.

    Icebergs that remain in cold water may drift for several years, but when they reach warmer waters, they melt within a few days.

    Strangely enough, the greatest iceberg danger comes after the winter months have passed. During extremely cold weather, icebergs are trapped by frozen seawater, but with the arrival of the spring thaw, they begin to move silently through the water like white, shivering ghosts. Icebergs are particularly dangerous when it is dark or foggy.

    In 1912 the giant passenger liner Titanic, while traveling at night, collided with an iceberg, and over fifteen hundred lives were lost. Shortly after this, the International Ice Patrol Service, maintained by the U.S. Coast Guard, was formed. Through daily vigilance, U.S. Coast Guard planes and ships locate and chart the course of icebergs and relay the information to ships traveling in the area. This service has saved many lives, because radar and sonar equipment cannot be completely relied upon to detect icebergs in rough, choppy waters or in rain, snow, or fog.

    It would seem that icebergs are completely without value. However, many seamen of times past would disagree. Icebergs have been known to drift close to ships whose crews were dangerously low on drinking water. Because icebergs are frozen freshwater, thirsting men looked on this floating water supply as a blessing. There is a possibility that one day icebergs could be economically towed to parts of the world that face water shortages.

    Illustrated by Dick Brown

    1. Water action has carved eerie caves in this majestic, floating ice palace.

    2, 4. Chunks of floating pack ice dot the Arctic waters during a spring thaw.

    3. Greenland’s ice cap provides a playground for seals and gulls.

    5. Erosion from water and the sun’s rays often creates grotesque, masklike features.

    6, 7. Men climbing from a boat onto an iceberg are dwarfed by its gigantic size.

    8. This boat is departing toward the sunset during a summer month when the sun shines twenty-four hours a day.