Whitest White, Bluest Blue
- June 16, 2007 12:07 AM |
- By Quirks
Forget what you’ve seen in pictures, nothing prepares you for the sheer beauty of an iceberg seen close up from the water. A towering spire of glistening white, several stories high, stands like a sculpture perched on an emerald blue base that makes a gemstone look pale. Like your first sight of the Rockies or the ocean, nature in her simply elegant way washes over you with eye-watering beauty. But will they become a vanishing breed?
I had the exquisite privilege of seeing not one but two icebergs that had grounded themselves just outside the entrance to St. John’s harbour during our recent Quirks visit to Newfoundland. The brilliant 15,000-year-old ice is literally as pure as driven snow, having formed before humans began smoking up the atmosphere. Apparently, it makes very long lasting ice cubes for drinks - but venturing out onto the bergs to take a sample is highly risky business. They have a bad habit of rolling over without much warning.
The big bergs seen along the coasts of Newfoundland and Labrador are born from Greenland glaciers, which are the fastest moving glaciers in the world. Huge chunks of ice are calved off where the glaciers meet the ocean. Some come from the Canadian Arctic, but all are carried south by the Labrador current, which can take them as far south as Bermuda. Every berg is different and the same berg changes from day to day.
It’s hard to fathom how most of the structure is underwater when the part sticking above the surface is so impressive. Looking down from above, you get a hint of the hidden side as the blue ice spreads out from the base beneath the waterline and fades into the darkness below.
But while the big bergs were the most impressive sight, the one that really made me think was a small piece that had broken off, a “bergy-bit,” that was making its way out of the harbour channel on the outgoing tide like a slow-moving white walrus. It even had the rounded, elongated shape of a sea mammal as it slowly bobbed up and down in the gentle swells. Watching this fragment pass, I wondered if there will come a day when news cameras will be tracking the final journey of the world’s last iceberg. It would probably look very much like this piece, small, tinted slightly gray from pollution in the water (St. John’s still dumps raw sewage into the harbour), gradually losing the last of its glistening glory.
In this International Polar Year, scientists are watching the world’s ice vanish before their eyes. The Greenland glaciers are all retreating up their valleys, so in the near future, they will no longer give birth to icebergs. It will be quite a while before all the ice on land is gone, but floating ice is expected to disappear within a few decades, triggering a number of feedback loops that will enhance climate change even further.
Recently, scientists verified the extreme climate change that took place on Mars, where that planet changed from a blue world to a red one. It looks like Mars was covered with a large ocean about 3.5 billion years ago, around the time life was taking hold on Earth. But then the poles of the red planet shifted and the whole world went into a permanent ice age from which it has never recovered.
Today, the Earth is doing the opposite. We have been emerging from an ice age for the last 10,000 years and now humans appear to be accelerating the final demise of ice on this planet. It was a sad sight watching this very old piece of ice attempt to make its way back out to sea. By now, it is probably gone, absorbed into a warming ocean …a symbol of things to come?
— Bob McDonald
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