Canadian Ice Service tracking icebergs from Ellesmere in western Arctic

Drifting icebergs can conflict with navigation routes and cause hazards for coastal communities and ships. Climate change is creating more ice shelf break-off than ever and scientists are keeping track of drifting patterns as a result.

Beacons were dropped from an airplane onto icebergs last week

A team from Environment Canada and the Department of National Defence flew over the Beaufort sea last week to drop sensors on an iceberg in the western arctic. (Submitted by Adrienne White)

The Canadian Ice Service is tracking icebergs to monitor and predict drifting patterns in the western Arctic, according to one of its ice analysts.

Last week, the organization — a branch of Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC) — dropped beacons from a Hercules aircraft onto icebergs in the Beaufort Sea. 

Adrienne White, an ice analyst with the Canadian Ice Service, said that it's common practice to track icebergs in the eastern Arctic. 

In this case, the icebergs being monitored in the Western Arctic are castaways from the Milne ice shelf on the northwest coast of Ellesmere Island — an area that was historically permanently covered in ice.

A map showing the location of the Milne ice shelf on Ellesmere Island in Canada's High Arctic. (CBC)

Over the past century Ellesmere Island has begun to break up, explained White, and that process has accelerated within the last decade. 

The warming climate has caused an increase in floating icebergs breaking off of stable structures, as well as more open water along the northern coastline. 

"We're having a lot more change to these large floating ice structures that are no longer stable in our current climate," White said, adding that it could mean risk for ships or coastal communities nearby.

The buoys that will be dropped onto icebergs in the Beaufort Sea for the first time this year. (Submitted by Adrienne White)

By dropping beacons, White said she and her colleagues at ECCC will be able to monitor the drifting ice. 

The sensor data will provide updates on the icebergs' coordinates every hour for the next two years. 

White said her colleagues are also deploying a different kind of sensor into the Beaufort Sea to record air temperatures, sea surface temperatures and pressure. 

That meteorological data is used in global climate modelling to forecast weather worldwide. 


  • An earlier version of this story incorrectly said that scientists are tracking icebergs in the Western Arctic for the first time. In fact, this has happened before.
    Aug 26, 2021 8:27 AM CT

With files from Peter Sheldon and Wanda McLeod