Where Icebergs Go to Die

Today’s story is the answer to the October 2018 puzzler. which was also covered on WUWT

This could be a scene out of a spooky movie. But reality is just as morbid for this coffin-shaped iceberg. After 18 years at sea, B-15T has entered a region where Antarctic icebergs go to die.

On September 23, 2018, when an astronaut on the International Space Station shot this photograph, iceberg B-15T had already left the Southern Ocean. It was spotted in the South Atlantic between South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands. The second image shows a wide view, acquired the same day by the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Terra satellite. Icebergs like this are known to melt rapidly as they make their way north into warmer waters.

B-15T’s journey to this iceberg graveyard has been a long one. Its parent berg (B-15) first broke away from the Ross Ice Shelf in March 2000. It fractured over time into smaller bergs, many of which continued riding the Antarctic Coastal Current (counter-clockwise) around Antarctica.

By late 2017, the Weddell Sea gyre had redirected B-15T from its near circumnavigation and sent the berg drifting north. This third image was acquired in October 2017 by MODIS on NASA’s Aqua satellite. It shows the iceberg when it was near Elephant Island, an icy bit of rock located a few hundred kilometers north-northeast from the tip of the Antarctic Peninsula.

The Antarctic Circumpolar Current, which funnels through the Drake Passage, then steered the iceberg toward the east and its current location. Water at this latitude—about 54 degrees South—is generally warmer than the Southern Ocean and deadly for icebergs. NASA/UMBC glaciologist Chris Shuman noted that Southern Hemisphere winter was just ending when the astronaut spotted the berg, so the return of abundant sunlight could further warm the water around it. The lack of sea ice in the vicinity of B-15T implies that the water was above the freezing point.

The spooky shape of B-15T was acquired long before it moved into this iceberg graveyard. For more than a decade, B-15 had numerous collisions—smashing back into the Ross Ice Shelf where it originated, hitting bedrock along the coast, and bumping into other tabular icebergs. Such collisions can be strong enough to abruptly fracture the crystalline ice and produce linear edges—similar to the rectangular iceberg that debuted this month near the Larsen C ice shelf and iceberg A-68. That iceberg is visible in the photograph below, acquired October 16 during an Operation IceBridge science flight.

“This fracturing is akin to ‘cleaving’ a mineral crystal with a sharp tap of hammer,” Shuman said. Of course, the edges are not always so linear. Other bergs have edges that are curved. Some become jagged when the pull of gravity or the cutting action of waves causes ice to irregularly splinter.

“The coffin shape is an accident of time and space, given the approximately 18.5-year voyage of B-15T,” Shuman said. “We can only guess at the forces that have acted on this remnant of B-15 along the long way around Antarctica.”

Astronaut photograph ISS056-E-195042 was acquired on September 23, 2018, with a Nikon D5 digital camera using a 800 millimeter lens and is provided by the ISS Crew Earth Observations Facility and the Earth Science and Remote Sensing Unit, Johnson Space Center. The image was taken by a member of the Expedition 56 crew. The image has been cropped and enhanced to improve contrast, and lens artifacts have been removed. The International Space Station Program supports the laboratory as part of the ISS National Lab to help astronauts take pictures of Earth that will be of the greatest value to scientists and the public, and to make those images freely available on the Internet. Additional images taken by astronauts and cosmonauts can be viewed at the NASA/JSC Gateway to Astronaut Photography of Earth. NASA Earth Observatory images by Lauren Dauphin and Jeff Schmaltz, using MODIS data from NASA EOSDIS/LANCE and GIBS/Worldview. Airborne photograph by NASA/Jeremy Harbeck. Story by Kathryn Hansen.

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October 31, 2018 9:08 am

Iceberg death is always sad but it’s a part of life (albeit not of the life of the dead iceberg), and while we might wish upon a star that they could live forever, I always tell my kids that under the cruel logic of nature, immortality would leave no room for all the new icebergs. If an iceberg halves as it calves, is that an example of meiosis, mitosis or just a short-sighted question? Weep, weep for all the cryobiology I’ve forgotten since high school.

Mike Bryant
Reply to  Brad Keyes
October 31, 2018 9:47 am

I, too, mourn this death. I can only hope this individual will ascend to iceberg heaven. It’s already been through hell.

R Chimedes
Reply to  Mike Bryant
October 31, 2018 12:12 pm

When this iceberg is gone it will be gone forever. The space it took in nature will be a void less filled. It was translated into another form older than earth itself that now is free to infuse all on earth with its essence. We who are left behind can only hope the phases of its existence will contain and release the energy needed to help us all recycle the natural beauty of a polar state.

Reply to  Brad Keyes
October 31, 2018 12:29 pm

Well Brad Keyes, make up for cryobiology with a bit of history:

The “Garthforce” sailed from England in 1921 with Captain R. D. Cruickshank in command. His wife
travelled with him. Late in January 1922 the Garthforce was “running her easting down” for Australia. Cruick- shank was driving her hard in squally, misty weather. In the small hours of
the morning she crashed full into an invisible, waiting berg…..Cruickshank fixed his position as
eighty miles to the east of Prince Edward and Marion Islands….(Eight Bells at Salamander L. G Green).

An iceberg big enough to severely damage an steel-hulled windjammer was clearly lurking a great way further North than S Georgia. Marion and Price Edward are roughly 47 S; 38 E…

And there are many other records of similar occurrences in the days before radar, in the S Atlantic within 3 or 4 days sailing/steaming of Cape Town. One of Nelson’s Captains Edward Riou (killed at the Battle of Copenhagen), commanding HMS Guardian at the end of the 1700s, struck an iceberg South of Cape Town and brought her into that port after an epic survival battle.

John Tillman
Reply to  KO
October 31, 2018 12:36 pm

By far the worst Antarctic disaster was due to WX rather than ice:


Had San Telmo made it to Chile and Peru, Spain might have held onto at least more parts of its empire.

Andrew Bore
Reply to  KO
November 1, 2018 8:35 am

Edward Riou and HMS Guardian were part of the Second Fleet of convicts heading to Australia in 1790. My 5th great grandfather was the Naval Agent for the Second Fleet and died at sea on the way there.

Michael S. Kelly, LS, BSA, Ret.
Reply to  Brad Keyes
October 31, 2018 4:13 pm

“If an iceberg halves as it calves, is that an example of meiosis, mitosis or just a short-sighted question?”

What about neuritis and neuralgia? Those with shingles would probably demand answers of you. Are you bigoted against roofies?

Jeff Alberts
Reply to  Brad Keyes
October 31, 2018 6:22 pm

Brad has WAY too much time on his hands.

John F. Hultquist
October 31, 2018 9:18 am

Background reading

This, and more, including photos:
“You may think it would drift north, away from the continent, but icebergs this big don’t have an easy path. They crash and bounce along any relatively shallow region of the sea floor and wipe out anything in their way. Most people know trawling harms the sea floor; imagine the trail of damage 900 billion tonnes of ice scraping on the sea floor can leave.”

Reply to  John F. Hultquist
October 31, 2018 10:38 am

Damage is a subjective human interpretation. I expect that as this is an entirely natural and regular occurence it almost certainly makes some positive contribution to the normal state of the sea floor Perhaps by redistributing sea floor deposits mineral and organic back into the biology of the deep sea.
The tricky bit is trying to interpret which human activities have neutral or beneficial effects. Neutral is a function of time scales. Virtually nothing we do to the planet will matter in 10 million years from now. If I’m wrong, feel free to look me up!

Reply to  john
October 31, 2018 2:06 pm


If we sucked all the CO2 out the atmosphere as some propose we do (well partially) and destroyed all meaningful life on earth, 10 million years might not be long enough to repair the damage we did.

I suspect it would though, and I do like your post.

Pat Frank
October 31, 2018 9:23 am

I can see why they call it Elephant Island.

Ears, head, and extended trunk, are all present. 🙂

No Name Guy
October 31, 2018 9:45 am

I think the turbulence from the South Sandwich Islands in the 2nd picture is pretty cool. Take a look at the enlarged pic for details.

October 31, 2018 9:57 am

Love the von Karman vortex streets coming off the S. Sandwich Islands in the Sept 23 image.

Ivor Ward
October 31, 2018 10:13 am

Ain’t nature wonderful. How small we are compared to this.

Reply to  Ivor Ward
October 31, 2018 10:44 am

Here’s a closer view of the von Karman streets


October 31, 2018 10:19 am

Maybe Al Gore could go down on a promotional tour to save the icebergs…..or at least claim he saved some.

October 31, 2018 10:26 am

Oh well. My surmise was 100% erroneous… 🙂

October 31, 2018 10:37 am

It’s now fairly close to S Georgia, this image is from Oct 28th.

October 31, 2018 10:48 am

Pretty sure it’s a newfangled U.S. Navy vessel disguised as an iceberg. Why should we believe NASA? #fakenews

October 31, 2018 11:02 am

This iceberg, floating free, for 18 years still hasn’t succumbed to a warmer planet.

If it takes this long to still not have melted, how long do the alarmist’s imagine it would take the Antarctic or Greenland to melt? What size is this compared to it’s origin?

Reply to  HotScot
October 31, 2018 11:22 am

It spent most of that time in close proximity to the Antarctic ice here’s a shot of it in January 2017 just before it separated and started to move north.


Reply to  Phil.
October 31, 2018 11:34 am

It isn’t uncommon for icebergs to stay close to the Antarctic continent for a long time. There is a westward coastal countercurrent to the eastward Antarctic Cicumpolar Current.

However the Antarctic peninsula interferes wth this simple system and therefore icebergs are often deflected northwards into warmer waters in this area. It was already known in the 19th century that there were occasional “epidemics” of icebergs that endangered shipping in the waters around Cape Horn.

Reply to  Phil.
October 31, 2018 11:35 am

The original Iceberg B-15 was the world’s largest recorded iceberg. It measured around 295 kilometres (183 mi) long and 37 kilometres (23 mi) wide, with a surface area of 11,000 square kilometres (4,200 sq mi)—larger than the whole island of Jamaica.
It stayed grounded for a while and proceeded to break up into large pieces, the largest one B-15A has been well documented.
comment image

Jeff Alberts
Reply to  Phil.
October 31, 2018 6:25 pm

“The original Iceberg B-15 was the world’s largest recorded iceberg. It measured around 295 kilometres (183 mi) long and 37 kilometres (23 mi) wide, with a surface area of 11,000 square kilometres (4,200 sq mi)—larger than the whole island of Jamaica.”

How many iced lattes is that?

Reply to  HotScot
October 31, 2018 11:26 am

The B-9 iceberg calved in 1987 and is still in fairly good shape 31 years later. It is currently stranded in Commonwealth Bay, and as a matter of fact it was the presence this berg that messed things up for the “Ship of Fools”

October 31, 2018 11:08 am

Thanks for posting this Anthony. Quite the interesting story.

John Tillman
October 31, 2018 11:39 am

Over the years there have been serious proposals to tow tabular icebergs to Los Angeles. They’d be OK as long as they stayed in the cold Humboldt Current off the southern Pacific coast of South America, but would need insulation to survive the North Pacific, despite the cool California Current.

Reply to  John Tillman
October 31, 2018 12:09 pm

I recall a proposal by Swithinbank regarding transport of icebergs back in the late 70s.

John Tillman
Reply to  Phil.
October 31, 2018 12:27 pm

LA has managed to pillage and plunder enough fresh water from hither and yon to keep growing without towing ice from Antarctica. With nuclear power, they could desalinate sea water, but in today’s CA, nuke and fossil fuels are equally anathema.

And any ocean-going tugs towing the bergs would of course also have to run on fossil fuels rather than wind or sun.

October 31, 2018 12:06 pm

So we get the names of the guys who took the airborne shots and NEO shots but the one from ISS was just “an astronaut”.

Clearly care has been taken not to mention the person ( ie author ) of this photo.

We even get to know what camera he used and what setting but his name is withheld. What is that about?

Reply to  Greg
October 31, 2018 12:44 pm

His or her.
The crew on that mission was: Drew Feustel of NASA, Alexander Gerst of the European Space Agency, Oleg Artemyev of Roscosmos, Ricky Arnold of NASA, Sergei Prokopev of Roscosmos and Serena Auñón-Chancellor of NASA.


John M. Ware
Reply to  Phil.
November 1, 2018 11:49 am

The fifth name on that list is a lot like that of Sergei Prokofiev, one of the greatest Russian composers of the first half of the twentieth century. Any relation?

bit chilly
October 31, 2018 2:27 pm

given the huge amount of warming the planet has undergone in the last 18 years i find it hard to believe any lump of ice can last that long ,i mean look at the arctic sea ice, it has all melted according to prof. wadhams 😉 (hopefully no sarc tag needed)

Svend Ferdinandsen
October 31, 2018 3:28 pm

The history of these icebergs illustrates what the climateers mean when they talk of collapse.

michael hart
October 31, 2018 11:55 pm

I suggest running a competition to find the most likely reason why this will be the source of extra problems because of global warming.

My theory is that such icebergs are a temporary residence for wounded seabirds. Or Seabirdy McSeabirdface lost his way home after a long night out and having eaten too many fish to fly properly. The damage due to increased melting of such icebergs is, well, incalculable.

November 1, 2018 12:16 pm

Looks like a cheap alternative to expensive aircraft carriers. Unless it needs to go somewhere …

(Recall comedian Jackie Mason: “I’ve got enough money to last me the rest of my life. Unless I need to buy something.”)

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