Still waiting for N.L.’s famous iceberg season? Don’t hold your breath, scientists say

Nfld. & Labrador

One iceberg tracker is hesitant to predict any bergs at all in the southern parts of Newfoundland this year but says it's not necessarily a harbinger of decline.

Hoping to spot a berg like this beauty, captured in Bonavista last year? Probably not going to happen in 2021.(Trinity Eco-Tours)

Diane Davis eagerly checks iceberg charts every spring, keeping an eye on the gentle giants drifting toward Newfoundland's shores.

This year — well into the province's typical iceberg season — she's still waiting to share news of their arrival to fans around the world.

"People are disappointed," she sighed, referring to a Facebook collective of 22,000 enthusiasts who normally post photos and locations of the season's icy visitors.

These days, members eager for a weekend sightseeing trip repeatedly ask the same question: where'd all the icebergs go?

Jason Ross, who tracks the nomadic glacial hunks with Canadian Ice Services, can offer only disappointment.

"I'd be reluctant to predict any icebergs this year," Ross said when reached by phone in Ottawa.

This iceberg made world news in 2017 when it drifted into Ferryland's harbour.(Greg Locke/Reuters)

Newfoundland's slightly warmer than average winter, he explains, meant sea ice couldn't form as far south as it normally does. That means any icebergs drifting past Labrador faced an onslaught of wind, waves and warm water, melting them before they settled in harbours and bays across the island.

Strong westerly winds have also pushed existing icebergs away from shore, he continued.

"Normally at this time of year, we'd have icebergs throughout northeast Newfoundland down to the Grand Banks," he said. "As the sea ice would normally melt away, then that would leave the icebergs left to be observed … but it doesn't look like we're going to get that this year."

The province last saw this level of scarcity in 2010, he said.

Scant berg tally an 'extreme event'

Ross characterizes 2021's low numbers as a blip, rather than a sign of rapid decline.

"It's definitely an extreme event," he said.

But those extreme events might eventually become commonplace.

The season's shortage "falls in line with what we would expect with an increasingly warm climate," Ross said.

"It varies a lot every year, so the decrease isn't going to be linear. Just because we didn't have any icebergs this year doesn't mean we're not going to have any icebergs next year … but we would expect this to happen more and more frequently as the years go by."

It takes thousands of years for icebergs to form as glaciers on Greenland. When chunks break off, they can travel for two or three more years before reaching the Newfoundland coast.

Diane Davis, an iceberg enthusiast who runs a local fan group, looks toward the horizon, remaining optimistic about next season.(Submitted by Ray Mackey)

Lev Tarasov, who studies sea ice and climate change at Memorial University, says in the near future, Newfoundlanders and Labradorians may even see an influx of bergs as melting accelerates in Greenland.

But as soon as 80 years from now, he suspects they'll stop coming altogether.

"You can only have icebergs if the ice cap on Greenland is ending in the ocean," Tarasov explains. "As it's retreating back, at some point those margins are going to be on land, and then all you're going to have is meltwater."

For now, Davis and her group can do little more than trade memories of seasons past.

She remains buoyant in spite of the news.

"Our other summer guests are arriving: the puffins, the whales," Davis said. "Hopefully that will make up for things."


Malone Mullin is a reporter in St. John's. She previously worked at CBC Toronto and CBC Vancouver.

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