Sunday, January 2, 2011

'Iceberg cowboy' finds archway in the middle of ocean

A strange sight greeted biologists recently:
an iceberg archway, floating in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.

From FoxNews

Forget moving mountains.
Marine biologist Andrew Perry moves icebergs.
And his latest adventure led to the discovery of an icy archway, right in the middle of the ocean.
Perry was out trawling for icebergs with
Oceans Limited, a Canadian company that identifies which of the tremendous floaters are drifting towards stationary deep-water oil rigs, when he found the arch -- think Stargate meets portal to Narnia.

"It was a beautiful day, hardly a wave on the water. And then there it was -- a big beautiful arch," Perry told.
"No one had seen anything like this. We thought it was amazing."
Icebergs routinely break off Greenland and float down the Labrador coast, Perry explained, a corridor he called "iceberg alley".
Along the way, they post a direct threat to deep-water oil installations.
Though they don't move particularly quickly -- typically one to four knots -- they've got enough bulk to do major damage if they hit anything, he explained.
"We recorded some upwards of 350,000 tons" Perry said.
Oceans Limited moves smaller icebergs by training water cannons on them for hours.
"That's for the smaller ones, we call them growlers".
It's much cheaper to move the icebergs, even the very large ones, than to disconnect the oil rig and move it, he pointed out: moving a rig costs millions, while operating a small boat costs about $25,000 per day.

So Perry's company either lassos the big boys with a single boat or corrals them with a net dragged between two boats.
Icebergs don't move particularly fast, Perry explained, so changing their course can take quite a while, but they don't have to move too many each year.

"Depending on the ice season, they may have to tow 10 to 20 ... during the 2009 season we profiled around 60 icebergs to get computer generated 3D images," Perry said.
But he had never run into an iceberg like this one before.
Icebergs are often seen as just giant chunks of compressed water, not stunning works of natural art.
Yet beautifully sculpted icebergs like the one Perry found are actually fairly common, thanks to the natural forces of the seas and the skies, explained
Ted Scambos, lead scientist for the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) at the University of Colorado in Boulder.
"Complex, sculptured icebergs like this are usually formed from ice that broke off of fast-flowing glaciers," Scambos said.
"It starts off as a rugged piece of ice that waves and sunshine then sculpt."
Sure, but how did this iceberg form in such a stunning fashion?
Wave action, Scambos explained, and it's more common than you might think.
"As the waves begin to pound out a dimple in the ice facewall, it focuses the wave energy, leading to more rapid erosion at the center.
So, with time, the waves carve through the face to the other side.
"It's not the first one I've seen, but it's the most artistic."
Icebergs are surprisingly noisy as well, according to Perry. They're constantly moving and cracking, he said. The arch "sounded like shotguns being fired off all the time, due to the ice cracking."

And what to do with all of that ice?
Perry and his fellow biologists have a unique use for icebergs: they put them in cocktails.
"To be honest it's the cleanest water you can get. The air bubbles trapped in it are under so much pressure the ice fizzes when it melts."
"Who doesn't want 500,000-year-old ice in their drink?" he joked.

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