Why I love icebergs

Why I love icebergs

I love looking at icebergs, especially in fog.

What a strange thing to say for someone travelling Arctic wilderness by boat. Surely any sailor should dislike icebergs for being unpredictable, solid and having so much potential to put an expedition in peril.

The art

Iceberg between Tasiilaq and Kulusuk, East Greenland. August 2014.

Iceberg between Tasiilaq and Kulusuk, East Greenland. August 2014.

Icebergs are sculptural performance art of nature. Their fantastical shapes, textures and colours are like artwork, and the best part is that they cannot be stored in stuffy museums. Icebergs just are, whether you see them or not. They calve from glaciers, drift with wind and current, disintegrate, roll and collapse until nothing is left but ice cubes melting into ocean.

Icebergs are temporary beings carved by chance collisions, rain, wind, current and waves. Every moment they become something new. Changes may be subtle – small meltwater stream carves a groove, a small breaking section makes a splash. Or the whole icy behemoth could go topsy-turvy in one magnificent moment of disaster, if an arch finally collapsed or underwater section broke off.

You just cannot tell what is going to happen next, but you always wonder, and watch.

Elements of ice-cold beauty

Beige shades in Nansen Fjord, East Greenland. August 2014.

Beige shades in Nansen Fjord, East Greenland. August 2014.

Buoyancy, shape, texture, colour.

Light.

Even light of a cloudy day reveals details without eye-burning brightness. The frigid vista may look artificial, like a photorealistic painting by a very patient artist. Myriad textures come to life without sharp contrast of sunshine – you can see chiselled, sharp-edged fragments abruptly cutting into smooth curves, or faint pockmarks merging into row of pillars. Waves carve and polish the waterline, and in calm weather you may see greenish hints of underwater shelves, which sometimes protrude further out than the parts above water.

It is common thought that icebergs are white, and that once you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all. Look again, there’s more to it! There’s cream, beige, brown, black, turquoise, blue. It is time to shrug off the cliché and see the colours for what they are: an exquisite palette of earth and blues.

Icebergs tilt, turn and roll, when their balance changes. There is a great chance to see something new arising from below surface – but from safe distance.

History, now

It is quite amazing that these gargantuan ice chunks can float. To do that, an iceberg must displace enough water to support its weight. It is said that 90% of an iceberg lies underwater, but there are slight variations to this rule-of-thumb. They may contain sediments picked up by the glacier, even large boulders.

When I see icebergs, I’m thinking of history trapped into their layers. 100 000 years may have passed since the sediments have seen the daylight, and there we are – the crew of a passing boat and an ancient piece of ice – sharing a moment together.

The length of one human life feels very insignificant in comparison to the age of glacial ice, and that is very humbling thought.

More iceberg photos from Greenland in gallery: Ice-cold Beauty (2014)

About Riikka

Riikka Puustinen is a freelance sailor with digital media education and long international career in UX design and project management. Fond of sun, snow, sled dogs, icebergs, mountains and creative thinking. Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society in the UK.