Nfld. & Labrador

Under pressure: Unprecedented ice conditions expected to remain throughout this week

Massive chunks of ice, four feet thick in some places, could move out of harbours along the province's coast by the weekend, the coast guard says.
The Canadian Coast Guard has three large icebreakers stationed along the coast of Newfoundland and Labrador to deal with heavy ice conditions. (Submitted by Canadian Coast Guard)

Canadian Coast Guard officials say the end of pack ice in Newfoundland's sheltered harbours could be coming soon — but it won't be until the end of this week.

Conditions are changing rapidly, but it will take a strong westerly wind to drive the ice from the shores, said Rebecca Acton-Bond, acting superintendent of ice operations. 

Winds are not forecasted to change until late this week.

"It changes hourly," she said. "We watch the wind and the weather all day, every day. If you have any amount of wind in one direction, it creates pressure on the other side."

Rebecca Acton-Bond, acting superintendent of ice operations for Atlantic Canada, said the pressure from the ice is unlike anything the province has seen in recent years. (Gary Locke/CBC)

As of Monday, easterly winds had driven ice into St. John's, the western side of Conception Bay and Trinity Bay — creating intense pressure as large chunks mash together.

Much of the ice near St. John's and along the island's eastern shore is more than four feet thick, Acton-Bond said.

Sea ice rolling into sheltered harbours is not abnormal, as there were similar occurrences in 1993, 2008 and 2014. 

However, the pressure impacted upon the ice this year is much higher than normal, said Acton-Bond.

The coast guard has three of its most powerful icebreakers working in the province — ships capable of cracking their way to the North Pole.

Ice conditions are changing rapidly. These satellite photos, hours apart, show the difference in ice levels around Bell Island. (Submitted by Canadian Coast Guard)

The captains of the icebreakers, accustomed to guiding ships under intense conditions, are reporting difficulties with the pressure of the ice around the province.

"When an icebreaker is creating a track under pressure, the track closes very quickly behind it," Acton-Bond said. "It has to be a very close escort."

Problems can arise when a ship is following close behind an icebreaker and they both have to stop for an obstruction, such as an iceberg or another ship.

"With a close escort, that does create a little bit more danger," she said.

Problems with ferry services lessening

As of Monday afternoon, the MV Hazel McIsaac was the only provincial ferry impeded by heavy ice conditions.

The ferry services Little Bay Islands-Long Island-Pilley's Cove.

The MV Apollo is back in operation after being halted by ice conditions on Friday. (CBC)

The coast guard has an icebreaker in the area, but hasn't been able to assist the ferry due to heavy ice conditions.

Air service was arranged for local residents, but was unavailable all day due to weather.

Ice had delayed the MV Apollo, MV Beaumont Hamel and MV Flanders, but all three have resumed regular runs.

Ice hampering offshore production

More than 300 kilometres off the coast of St. John's, drilling on the Henry Goodrich platform is halted.

The rig is currently in tow on the southern side of the Jeanne D'Arc Basin while Husky Energy deliberates on its next move. Heavy ice in the area has impeded its production and is causing the company to consider anchoring closer to shore.

The SeaRose floating platform, pictured here in 2013, has returned to the White Rose oil field after a close call with an iceberg last week. (CBC)

The SeaRose, which had a close brush with an iceberg on Wednesday morning, resumed production on Friday.

The floating platform, operating under Husky's control, flushed its lines with seawater to check for any leaks after passing near a large iceberg.

According to Canadian Coast Guard satellite imagery, there are 26 icebergs directly off the coast of St. John's, with dozens more further out towards the Jeanne D'Arc Basin.


Ryan Cooke is a journalist in St. John's.