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Breaking the Ice on Icebergs

Q&A re icebergs Icebergs are a natural and beautiful part of Earth's cryosphere, and are closely monitored and studied by scientists around the world. We asked JPL research scientists Ben Holt and Michael Schodlok to attempt to remove some of the mystery shrouding these floating flotillas of ice.Q. What are icebergs and how are they formed?A. Ben Holt: Icebergs form from the natural calving of glaciers and Earth's great ice sheets, which extend into the ocean. These ice extensions, called tongues and shelves, lose strength as they extend further from their attachments to land, eventually breaking off in a process called 'calving' to form icebergs.Q. How do icebergs move?A. Ben Holt: Once they form, icebergs are moved by winds and currents, drifting either north or south toward Earth's equator, where they eventually melt. They may get stuck locally by the ocean bottom or even by surrounding sea ice.Q. Where do icebergs form, and how big can they get?A. Ben Holt: Earth's largest icebergs are formed from the extensive ice shelves in Antarctica-giant, so-called "tabular" icebergs. In the Arctic region, Greenland glaciers are the primary source, generally forming considerably smaller icebergs than those found in Antarctica. These smaller icebergs, sometimes called ...

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Icebergs, penguins and ships from space

Satellite technology provides accurate information about life on Earth From tracking icebergs in the Arctic to counting penguins in Antarctica, satellite technology continues to provide ever more detailed and accurate information about life - and its risks - on Earth.Improvements in data-acquisition and more sophisticated software mean that even in crowded shipping lanes it is easier to single out an individual ship and an Emperor penguin can be distinguished from a shadow on the ice. With miniaturised satellites now available, the much lower costs involved have helped launch a swarm of such space-based monitors feeding data to scientists, governments and commercial interests.The pros and cons of satellites have been recently identified in the detection of icebergs in the North Atlantic region where the Titanic had its fateful encounter. The International Ice Patrol (IIP), the iceberg-monitoring service that was established following the disaster 100 years ago, is currently evaluating them and, while they offer a cheaper version than that provided by aerial surveillance, they have yet to pass the test with flying colours.The IIP found radar-based satellite surveillance had failed to meet its demanding requirements, with one of the main problems the inability to detect small icebergs. Getting satellites to distinguish ...

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Saving ships from Titanic’s fate

Are icebergs really still a danger? We've painted them, tagged them, bombed them, monitored them with radar and watched them from space - but icebergs like the one that sank the Titanic are still a threat to ships today.Scientists say that despite a century of technological gains, ships rely heavily on a detection method as old and as fallible as sailing itself ... the eyeball."Icebergs are very dangerous objects because they drift, they are not stationary, and in higher wave conditions they can be masked or hidden from a ship's radar. That's why they are still a danger today," says Michael Hicks of the International Ice Patrol (IIP).Icebergs can be stealthy leviathans, veiled by rough seas, fog or low light."There are still invisible threats," says Hicks.The odds of hitting an iceberg today are about one in 2000 - twice as remote as they were in April 1912 when the greatest ship of its time took 1514 people to a watery grave, estimates Brian Hill, a specialist with Canada's National Research Council (NRC).On average two iceberg collisions occur each year, and a near-disaster involving a cruise ship in 2007 showed that an unsinkable vessel has yet to be built.Formed in 1913, ...

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Top 10 facts about the International Ice Patrol

Are icebergs really still a danger? 1. When was the International Ice Patrol formed?Shipping areas in the North Atlantic have always been hazardous to navigate. The hazards of the North Atlantic captured global attention in April 1912 when the RMS Titanic sank after it struck an iceberg. The incident prompted maritime nations with ships transiting the Grand Banks off Newfoundland, Canada, to establish an iceberg patrol in the area. Since 1913, the U.S. Coast Guard has been tasked with the management and operation of the patrol. Except for the years of World Wars I and II, the ice patrol has been active each ice season since its inception.2. What are the specific duties of the ice patrol?Their mission is to monitor the iceberg danger near the Grand Banks of Newfoundland and provide the iceberg limit to the maritime community, including ice and current conditions.3. Who makes up the ice patrol?The ice patrol is a U.S. Coast Guard unit however the Canadian Ice Service, ice patrol and U.S. National Ice Center collaborate under the North American Ice Service. The ice patrol produces North American Ice service reports from February through July when icebergs may be present on the Grand Banks and ...

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Titanic threat: Do ships still hit icebergs?

Next month marks the centenary of the sinking of the Titanic Next month marks the centenary of the sinking of the Titanic. The disaster spurred maritime nations to start monitoring icebergs, so why are ships still hitting them?Shortly before midnight on 14 April 1912, the Titanic struck an iceberg and sank less than three hours later. The tragedy galvanised world leaders to hold the first Safety of Life at Sea convention to address the iceberg threat.With only visual sightings and a shipboard radio to guide the Titanic safely through iceberg-infested waters, the liner was ill-equipped to detect its nemesis.The conference after the sinking resulted in the International Ice Patrol (IIP), which was assigned to monitor "Iceberg Alley", the infamous stretch of ocean around Newfoundland. The IIP has been monitoring the area ever since, using aerial patrols and radar to determine the limits of iceberg danger, which they broadcast in a daily bulletin.In the southern hemisphere captains rely on programmes like the European Space Agency's Polar View for real-time iceberg detection via satellite imagery.The International Ice Patrol at work circa 1950 With dedicated monitoring teams issuing daily reports, satellites beaming back images and ship radars offering detailed information, the risk of ...

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