The Polar Explorer’s Guide to Icebergs: Bergy Bits, Growlers & More

November 10, 2017 Amanda Wells

Quark passengers are pictured below a giant iceberg in Antarctica in this image from A Polar Explorer's Guide to Icebergs.

Stunning, giant icebergs are one of the natural wonders that make a trip to the polar regions unlike any other experience on Earth. No two icebergs are the same; the stripes, cracks and brilliant hues of each one tell the story of its travels and even over the course of your trip, each one you see may change from one sighting to the next.

In this new infographic, you’ll discover fun iceberg facts, see how they’re classified by shape and size, and learn more about how these spectacular pieces of natural artwork are formed. We’ll have a look at the difference between small icebergs like bergy bits and growlers, and giant icebergs the size of apartment buildings (or larger!).

Where Can You See Giant Icebergs?

Quark passengers drift by a giant iceberg on a Zodiac excursion in Antarctica.

Quark passengers drift by a giant iceberg on a Zodiac excursion in Antarctica.

Icebergs, formed when chunks of ice break free from freshwater glaciers or ice shelves, are found in the Arctic, North Atlantic and Southern Oceans. Because they’re made of fresh water, the top 10% of each iceberg floats above the surface of saltwater. That means for each spectacular iceberg you see on your polar expedition, there’s another 90% beneath the surface for your ship’s captain to navigate around!

This year marked the calving of a trillion-ton, 5,800 sq km iceberg from Larsen C ice shelf. It was an event that dramatic changed Antarctica’s landscape, as 12% of the ice shelf broke away and went adrift in the Weddell Sea.

That one is obviously too large for viewing (unless perhaps by space shuttle!). However, the way some polar channels and inlets are shaped makes for incredible iceberg viewing, essentially trapping large numbers of icebergs for you to explore by Zodiac.  

The waters just off Pleneau Island, west of Booth Island at the southern end of the Lemaire Channel, for example, are a great place to see non-tabular icebergs in Antarctica. It’s a place known to passengers and expedition team as Iceberg Alley, and it’s an exceptional treat to reach it as thick sea ice often prevents its passage.

Passengers marvel at a massive iceberg floating nearby while kayaking in Greenland. Photo credit: Keith Perry

Passengers marvel at a massive iceberg floating nearby while kayaking in Greenland.
Photo credit:
Keith Perry

There’s an Iceberg Alley in the Arctic, too, off the Western coast of Greenland. Because icebergs can travel great distances on the ocean’s currents, many of these Greenlandic icebergs end up off of Canada’s east coast the following year. The speed at which each one travels is affected by the iceberg’s size and shape, ocean currents, winds, and waves.

Important Iceberg Facts: How Can You Tell Them Apart?

The two main types of icebergs are tabular and non-tabular. As you’ll see in the infographic below, tabular icebergs have a distinctive flat top, with steep sides and horizontal banding.

Iceberg size is another way they’re classified, ranging from 1 meter (3 ft) high growlers to giant icebergs classified in the catch-all ‘extra large’ category, which covers all icebergs 75 meters (240 ft) or more in height.

We also refer to the shape of icebergs in naming them. For example, a pinnacle iceberg might be as small as a growler or bergy bit, but will display the characteristic steep pitch and pointed top. You might spot pinnacles, domed, drydock, wedge or blocky icebergs on your polar expedition.

Of course, on each expedition you’re guided by passionate polar experts to help you interpret your surroundings. They’ll help you understand whether you’re looking at brash ice or bergy bits, and work hard to help you get incredible iceberg photos of your own!

Want to learn more? Check out our new infographic:

 

Explore Polar Expeditions

About the Author

Amanda Wells

Amanda is Director of Marketing at Quark Expeditions, a recent MBA grad, and a practitioner of positive psychology. In addition to her passion for travel, Amanda brings to Quark her belief that travel helps people push their growth boundaries, both literally and figuratively, and is always looking to connect with like-minded individuals.

Connect with Amanda on LinkedIn here.

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