Ice island the size of London threatens rigs

A two-million-ton iceberg will be on the move in the Arctic this summer thanks to global warming, putting busy shipping lanes in danger

A A A

An enormous iceberg the size of central London is causing alarm among scientists, who predict that it could be on the move in a matter of months, posing a potential threat to shipping and oil rigs in Arctic waters.

The two-million-ton, 25-square-mile block of ice is part of the Ayles ice shelf. Its existence only recently came to light thanks to satellite images from Nasa. Lying 30 miles off Canada's Ellesmere Island, it will be on the move in the summer, as temperatures rise and break up the surrounding pack ice.

"The potential issue here is that the ice island could go into the oil rigs in the Beaufort Sea," said Dr Luke Copland, a specialist in ice masses based at the University of Ottawa. "This hasn't happened in the past, but it could happen."

The ice could move several hundred miles over the summer, taking it closer to busy shipping routes for oil and gas. "If it ever came on a collision course with an oil rig, it is unlikely that we would be able to do much to stop it," said Dr Copland. "Maybe you would have to consider aerial bombardment to break it up, or use lots of tugs to try and move it, but it would be a lot of ice to move."

Tugs are already on permanent standby along Canada's coastline to lasso stray icebergs and tow them away from busy shipping routes, but researchers say controlling the main mass, dubbed "ice island", would be a completely different proposition.

Scientists blame global warming. "This is the most dramatic climate-related event we've seen in recent times in the high Arctic," said Professor Warwick Vincent of Laval University in Quebec. "We think it was associated with record warm temperatures and record minimum sea ice. Of course these days, every year sets a new record. The ice island has already moved 50km [30 miles] to the west, and could eventually end up in shipping and oil-exploration areas."

Scientists in Canada and the US have stepped up their monitoring of the ice as they attempt to predict where and when it is likely to go next. A team of researchers will visit the ice island in March, before it starts to move in the summer. It is thought most likely to follow a clockwise current in the Arctic Ocean, known as the Beaufort Gyre, that could see it reach the eastern coast of Greenland in 10 years. The warmer waters of the Atlantic would prevent it from travelling further south.

Climate change is altering the region's landscape. The Ayles ice shelf, thought to be 4,000 years old, was one of just six remaining on Ellesmere Island, Canada's most northern landmass. The ice shelves there have shrunk by up to 90 per cent in the past century - a loss of 3,500 square miles of ice, along with an unknown number of life forms.

Experts now claim the next 10 years could see massive changes in sea ice in the region. Researchers from the Canadian Ice Service have already seen average temperatures for the past few months 7C higher than they would normally expect.

"There is a lot more fracturing of the sea ice than we'd normally see at this time of year," said Dr Copland. "When you look at Arctic sea ice, it has been reducing dramatically over the past 30 years and it is hard to explain why that would happen without invoking climate warming."

VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
News
people
Life & Style
The new low cost smartphone of Motorola, 'Motorola Moto G', is displayed in Sao Paulo, Brazil on November 13, 2013. The smartphone, with dimensions 65.9mm W x 129.9mm H x 6.0 - 11.6mm D is equipped with a Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 with quad-core 1,2 GHz CPU, a 4.5-inch display and Android Operating System 4.3 and a suggested price of $ 179 USD.
techData assessing smartphones has revealed tens of millions of phones are at risk of being harvested
Arts & Entertainment
Jessica Pare as Megan Draper and Jon Hamm as the troubled, melancholy Don Draper
tvAnd six other questions we hope Mad Men series seven will answer
Arts & Entertainment
Cody and Paul Walker pictured in 2003.
film
News
David Beckham is planning to build a stadium in Miami’s port for a new football team he will own
news... in his fight for a football stadium in Miami's port area
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SEN Teaching Assistant

Negotiable: Randstad Education Group: TAs, LSAs and Support Workers needed in ...

Eye for Detail?

£41000 - £48000 per annum + Benefits: Pro-Recruitment Group: Eye for Detail? S...

NGO and Community Development in Cambodia

Unpaid: Kaya Responsible Travel: There are many small development projects in ...

Senior Infrastructure Consultant

£50000 - £65000 Per Annum potentially flexible for the right candidate: Clearw...

Day In a Page

Homelessness: Why is the supported lodgings lifeline under threat?

Why is the supported lodgings lifeline under threat?

Zubairi Sentongo swapped poverty in Uganda for homelessness in Britain. But a YMCA scheme connected him with a couple offering warmth and shelter
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: When the world’s biggest shed took over Regent’s Park

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

When the world’s biggest shed took over Regent’s Park
The pain of IVF

The pain of IVF

As an Italian woman vows to keep the babies from someone else’s eggs, Julian Baggini ponders how the reality of childbirth is often messier than the natural ideal
Supersize art

Is big better? Britain's latest super-sized art

The Kelpies are the latest addition to a growing army of giant sculptures. But naysayers are asking what a pair of gigantic horse heads tells us about Falkirk?
James Dean: Back on the big screen

James Dean: Back on the big screen

As 'Rebel without a Cause' is re-released, Geoffrey Macnab reveals how its star perfected his moody act
Catch-22: How the cult classic was adapted for the stage

How a cult classic was adapted for the stage

More than half a century after it was published 'Catch-22' will make its British stage debut next week
10 best activity books for children

10 best activity books for children

Keep little ones busy this bank holiday with one of these creative, educational and fun books
Arsenal 3 West Ham United 1: Five things we learnt from the battle between the London sides

Five things we learnt from Arsenal's win over West Ham

Arsenal still in driving seat for Champions League spot and Carroll can make late charge into England’s World Cup squad
Copa del Rey final: Barcelona are paying for their complacency and not even victory over Real Madrid will put things right

Pete Jenson on the Copa del Rey final

Barcelona are paying for their complacency and not even victory over Real Madrid will put things right
Rafa to reign? Ten issues clay courts will serve up this season

Rafa to reign? Ten issues clay courts will serve up this season

With the tennis circus now rolling on to the slowest surface, Paul Newman highlights who'll be making the headlines – and why
Exclusive: NHS faces financial disaster in 2015 as politicians urged to find radical solution

NHS faces financial disaster in 2015

Politicians urged to find radical solution
Ukraine crisis: How spontaneous are the pro-Russian protests breaking out in Ukraine’s east?

Ukraine crisis

How spontaneous are the pro-Russian protests breaking out in Ukraine’s east?
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: The first execution at the Tower of London for 167 years

The first execution at the Tower of London for 167 years

A history of the First World War in 100 moments
Fires could turn Amazon rainforest into a desert as human activity and climate change threaten ‘lungs of the world’, says study

New threat to the Amazon rainforest:

Fires that scorch the ‘lungs of the Earth’
Liverpool, Chelsea and Manchester City: And the winner of this season’s Premier League title will be...

Who’s in box seat now? The winner of the title will be ...

Who is in best shape to take the Premier League prize?