The US agency in charge of monitoring icebergs has warned shipping companies that an unusual amount of icebergs for this time of year are drifting into North Atlantic shipping lanes, disrupting a complex international system that affects numerous facets of life. Experts aren’t certain that climate change is to blame but, yeah, it’s probably climate change.
The US Coast Guard’s International Ice Patrol was set up shortly after the Titanic sank in the early 20th century. It monitors the presence of icebergs and their movements in order to keep the crews of sea vessels apprised of any potential dangers. As spring swings into motion each year, more icebergs start floating into shipping lanes and their numbers grow throughout the summer. Just last week, there were only 37 icebergs creating a hazard in the area. On average, there are about 80 icebergs spotted by the agency this time of year, but as of Monday, there were around 450. That means scheduled routes are being slowed to a crawl and are kept on high alert.
According to the Associated Press, cargo ships travelling near the Newfoundland coast have had to slow down to three or four knots, and many trans-Atlantic ships are having to take longer routes that add 650km to the journey.
Experts tell the AP that they believe “uncommonly strong counter-clockwise winds are drawing the icebergs south”, but they also say climate change is possibly a factor. Sea ice is melting around the globe at a rapid pace, and Greenland’s ice sheet is no exception.
The extra day and a half of time that some trans-Atlantic trips are taking is a problem, but also consider the fuel costs as well as the wear and tear on the vessels. It’s like a climate change ouroboros with more fossil fuels being burned in order to avoid the hazards that are likely a byproduct of climate change.
The ice patrol claims that in 104 years no ship that listened to the warnings has hit an iceberg, but that doesn’t mean that everyone listens. One vessel has already been brought in for repairs after it collided with a large chunk of ice.
Coast Guard Cmdr. Gabrielle McGrath tells the AP that she has never seen such an enormous increase of icebergs so quickly, and she is estimating there will be around 600 this season.