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article imageHundreds of icebergs in North Atlantic shipping lanes pose risk

By Karen Graham     Apr 6, 2017 in Environment
Providence - An unusually large swarm of icebergs have drifted into shipping lanes in the North Atlantic, disrupting a complex international system of transport.
The U.S. Coast Guard International Ice Patrol, out of New London, Connecticut, has been kept busier than usual, with 450 icebergs spotted on Monday in the waters close to where the Titanic went down in 1912, reports the Associated Press.
The Ice Patrol has a big job keeping ships appraised of ice conditions so they can avoid any potential dangers. As spring comes each year, there is always an increase in icebergs drifting into shipping lanes, but this usually happens later in the year, starting in May, according to the Coast Guard.
Last week, 37 icebergs were spotted, creating a hazard in the area. On average, there are about 80 icebergs seen at this time of year, so spotting hundreds of them is unusual. This means ships on scheduled routes are being slowed to a crawl or being forced to take another route.
The high number of icebergs has forced ships to detour as much as 400 miles out of the way to avoid the hazard. This is adding a day-and-a-half to the travel time for large cargo ships and this is costing money. Cargo ships belonging to Oceanex have been forced to throttle down to 3-4 knots as they make their way into their home port on the Newfoundland coast.
Oceanex executive chairman, Capt. Sid Hynes said Wednesday, "It makes everything more expensive. You're burning more fuel, it's taking a longer time, and it's hard on the equipment." He called it a "very unusual year," adding one ship has been pulled out of service for repairs after hitting an iceberg, according to CTV News.
Increase in number of icebergs linked to climate change
Experts are telling the Associated Press that what we are seeing this spring are “uncommonly strong counter-clockwise winds that are drawing the icebergs south," adding that climate change may be accelerating the loss of large chunks of ice off the Greenland Ice Sheet.
The Greenland ice sheet lost close to two trillion tonnes of ice mass between 2003 and 2013
The Greenland ice sheet lost close to two trillion tonnes of ice mass between 2003 and 2013
Jeremy Harbeck, NASA Goddard/AFP/File
Coast Guard Cmdr. Gabrielle McGrath leads the Ice Patrol, and she says she has never seen such an increase in icebergs in such a short time. She adds that the danger has been compounded because they have found icebergs outside the area they have advised ships to avoid.
McGrath is predicting a fourth "extreme ice season" with over 600 icebergs in the shipping lanes. In 2014, there were 1,546 icebergs in the shipping lanes — the sixth most severe season on record since 1900, according to the Ice Patrol. There were 1,165 icebergs in 2015 and 687 in 2016.
More about Icebergs, shipping lanes, Coast guard, international ice patrol, Titanic
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