What Is an Iceberg?

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An iceberg is a large piece of ice that has broken off from a glacier or an ice shelf and is floating in the ocean. It is formed when snow falls on land and accumulates over time, compressing into ice. The visible part of an iceberg above the water is just a small fraction of its total size, with the majority of it submerged. Icebergs can be dangerous to ships as they can cause collision or capsizing. They are also important in regulating Earth’s climate by reflecting sunlight and cooling the surrounding waters.

An iceberg is a large piece of freshwater ice that floats in open water. Icebergs are formed when they break off from glaciers or ice shelves, a process known as “calving.”

The majority of glaciers that calve icebergs are located along the coasts of Greenland. Around 10,000 to 15,000 new icebergs break off from these glaciers each year.

Icebergs come in various shapes and sizes. Icebergs the size of a house are considered small.

However, icebergs can be much larger. Some icebergs can be as massive as an airplane, a building, or even an aircraft carrier! The tallest recorded iceberg was approximately 550 feet tall.

So, how big does a block of ice need to be in order to be called an iceberg? According to the definition, icebergs must extend at least 17 feet out of the water and be at least 50 feet long.

As icebergs melt and become smaller, they are sometimes referred to as “growlers” due to the animal-like sounds they produce when trapped air escapes during the melting process.

While ice cubes floating in soda might appear harmless, icebergs floating in the ocean can actually be extremely hazardous for ships. In fact, an iceberg was responsible for one of the most devastating maritime disasters in history.

On the night of April 14, 1912, the RMS Titanic was crossing the North Atlantic when it collided with an iceberg. Although the ship’s lookouts had spotted the iceberg in time to avoid a head-on collision, the ship still struck the underwater portion of the iceberg.

The iceberg pierced the ship’s hull in multiple places, causing water to fill several compartments and compromising the ship’s buoyancy. The Titanic sank early the next morning, resulting in the loss of 1,517 passengers.

Due to its advanced design, numerous safety features, and immense size, some had considered the Titanic to be “unsinkable.” However, it proved no match for the iceberg it encountered that fateful night.

The sinking of the Titanic led to the establishment of the International Ice Patrol, which continues to patrol the North Atlantic today in order to monitor for icebergs that could pose a threat to ships at sea.

The iceberg that sank the Titanic was likely exceptionally large. However, larger icebergs are not necessarily more dangerous than smaller ones.

While larger icebergs are typically easier for ships to spot, smaller icebergs can be concealed within the ocean’s waves, making them more difficult to detect and thus more perilous.

If you’ve ever heard the phrase “just the tip of the iceberg,” you might be surprised to learn that there is a lot of truth to it. This phrase is used to imply that what is visible is not the whole picture.

This is literally true for icebergs. The higher they extend above the water, the deeper their bases reach beneath the water’s surface. For most icebergs, the submerged portion is three to nine times the height above the water.

Despite the risk they present to ships, icebergs play a crucial role in the natural water cycle. As icebergs melt, the water evaporates into the air and forms clouds.

The wind carries certain clouds to Greenland, where the low temperature causes the moisture in the clouds to condense and fall as snow. Over thousands of years, the snow accumulates in Greenland and forms glaciers.

Gravity pushes these enormous glaciers towards the ocean. When they reach the sea, the glaciers break apart and fall into the ocean, creating icebergs. As the icebergs travel and begin to melt, the cycle repeats itself!

If you find it difficult to imagine how icebergs are formed and survive in the cold waters of the North Atlantic, you can explore each stage in the Life of an Iceberg through pictures and maps.

Once you have finished exploring the life of an iceberg, you can create your own! Gather some small plastic toys, a small bucket, and a spray mister. If needed, ask someone to assist you with this activity.

Follow the instructions for the Icebergs Ahead! activity to freeze the small plastic toys in your homemade iceberg, and then observe as it slowly melts to reveal your prizes!


1. What is an iceberg?

An iceberg is a large mass of ice that has broken off from a glacier or ice shelf and is floating in the sea. They are typically found in polar regions such as Antarctica and the Arctic. Icebergs can vary in size, ranging from small pieces to massive structures that can be several kilometers long. The visible portion of an iceberg above the water is only a small fraction of its total size, with the majority of the ice hidden beneath the surface.

2. How are icebergs formed?

Icebergs are formed through a process called calving, which occurs when chunks of ice break off from glaciers or ice shelves. This can happen due to a variety of factors, including the weight of the ice causing it to crack and separate, or the melting of ice near the edges of glaciers. Once an iceberg is formed, it may drift with ocean currents, potentially traveling great distances before eventually melting.

3. What are the dangers associated with icebergs?

Icebergs pose several dangers, particularly to ships and maritime navigation. Since the majority of their mass is hidden beneath the water, they can easily collide with vessels, causing damage or even sinking them. This is why it is important for ships to have accurate iceberg detection systems and to navigate cautiously in areas known for iceberg presence. Additionally, the melting of icebergs can contribute to rising sea levels, which can have long-term impacts on coastal areas.

4. How are icebergs studied and monitored?

Scientists and researchers study icebergs through various methods. They use satellite imagery and aerial surveys to track their movement and monitor their size. They also deploy sensors and instruments on buoys or moorings to collect data on factors such as temperature, salinity, and ocean currents. This information helps in understanding the behavior and impact of icebergs. Monitoring systems and warning networks are also in place to provide early detection and alerts for ships and coastal communities in iceberg-prone areas.

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