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index > nautical facts and information > frequently asked questions: oceanography and icebergs


By the International Ice Patrol (IIP)

Q. How do the Labrador and Gulf Stream currents affect icebergs in the North Atlantic Ocean?

A. After icebergs calve off of Greenland's glaciers, they drift into the Baffin Bay and Labrador Sea and eventually follow the Labrador Current. South of the Grand Banks, the remnants of the Labrador Current interact with the Gulf Stream and warm-core eddies from the Gulf Stream. The water temperature of the North Atlantic ranges from -1.7 degrees C in the Labrador Current to 20 degrees C in the Gulf Stream. The cold meanders of the Labrador Current support icebergs commonly as far south as 41 N latitude. When icebergs encounter the warm temperatures of the Gulf Stream, they usually melt very rapidly. However, in 1926, the southernmost known iceberg reached 30-20 N, 62-32 W (about 150 nm from Bermuda).

Q. What kind of oceanographic buoys does IIP have and how are they used?

A. IIP uses a modified version of the WOCE (World Ocean Circulation Experiment) buoy. These WOCE buoys are drogued at 15 or 50 meters to track the deep water currents that affect iceberg drift. The drifters also measure the sea surface temperature using a thermister on the underside of the surface float.

Q. Does El Nino affect the number of icebergs that enter IIP's operation area?

A. El Nino is a phenomenon where the prevailing east to west winds across the southern Pacific diminish or sometimes reverse, causing warm waters to build up off the coast of Peru. Scientist are just starting to understand the global implications of El Nino such as increased droughts in Australia and frequent storms and flooding in California. We are often asked if we could use El Nino data to forecast the severity of an ice season.


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