Another extreme ice season as Coast Guard counts 1,000 icebergs in shipping lanes

New London — More than 1,000 icebergs drifted into North Atlantic shipping lanes in 2017, causing detours and adding travel times for mariners in an already heavily trafficked area.

The New London-based Coast Guard International Ice Patrol, which monitors iceberg danger in the North Atlantic, predicted back in March – when a larger than usual number of icebergs were observed – that it would be an extreme ice season, which occurs when more than 600 icebergs enter the shipping lanes.

This year marks the fourth consecutive extreme ice season, according to Cmdr. Kristen Serumgard, who heads the International Ice Patrol. And it ranks as the 19th most severe ice season on record.

Ice season runs from Feb. 1 through July 31, with the peak usually occurring in May and June. The high number of icebergs this year were due to retreating Greenland glaciers and storms breaking up large amounts of sea ice.

During ice season, the Ice Patrol actively patrols the area around the Grand Banks of Newfoundland, tracking icebergs as small as 15 meters in length up to icebergs that are hundreds of meters in length, and produces daily iceberg warnings.

The unit produces a daily iceberg warning for mariners, and at times limits the area in which it says mariners can travel safely in ice-free waters. The Ice Patrol shares responsibility for the warnings with the Canadian Ice Service, which produces the notices from September through January, when icebergs are normally restricted to Canadian domestic waters.

The shortest course between northern Europe and North America is about 2,300 miles, according to Serumgard, who said if mariners are abiding by the unit's warnings, it can make the trip in 2,700 to 2,800 miles, an additional 15 to 30 hours onto a ship's voyage plan.

She pointed to the unit's "stellar track record" – no vessel that has heeded the warnings of the Ice Patrol has struck an iceberg.

The unit has started to rely more on satellite imagery. This was the first year that the Ice Patrol did in-house analysis of satellite imagery, in addition to the manned aerial reconnaissance.

j.bergman@theday.com

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