Environment

What Icebergs?

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Clues of global warming are surfacing throughout northern lands. European butterflies are shifting poleward in search of cooler climes. Birds in Britain are laying eggs earlier in the spring. And this year, for only the second time since monitoring began in 1912, there have been no icebergs reported in North Atlantic shipping lanes.

Each spring, says Commander Steve Sielbeck of the International Ice Patrol, several hundred--and sometimes several thousand--giant bergs drift from western Greenland to the Grand Banks off Newfoundland. The patrol, which has searched for bergs since the sinking of the Titanic, normally issues hundreds of warnings to ships sailing those waters during peak iceberg season, from February to the end of July. This year it issued none.

Waters around the Grand Banks have been 3 to 5 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than normal, Sielbeck says. The temperatures were too toasty for the formation of sea ice, which keeps the water cold and protects the bergs from ocean waves. Although global warming could be to blame, Sielbeck cautions that local winds and natural climate cycles also play a role.

"No icebergs means the ships are safe," Sielbeck says. Still, he finds the ice-free water somewhat spooky. Airplanes normally continue to scan for bergs through August or even September. "Our last patrol was the first week of July," says Sielbeck. "Then we closed up our Newfoundland office and turned off the lights."

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