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."

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
i100
News
One father who couldn't get One Direction tickets for his daughters phoned in a fake bomb threat and served eight months in a federal prison
people... (and one very unlucky giraffe)
Arts and Entertainment
Sink the Pink's 2013 New Year's Eve party
musicFour of Britain's top DJs give their verdict on how to party into 2015
Sport
Fernando Torres has not scored in 266 minutes of pre-season for Chelsea
football
Arts and Entertainment
(L-R) Amanda Peet as Tina Morris, Melanie Lynskey as Michelle Pierson, Abby Ryder Fortson as Sophie Pierson, Mark Duplass as Brett Pierson and Steve Zissis as Alex Pappas in Togetherness
TV First US networks like HBO shook up drama - now it's comedy's turn
Travel
Pool with a view: the mMarina Bay Sands in Singapore
travel From Haiti and Alaska to Namibia and Iceland
News
The will of Helen Beatrix Heelis, better known as Beatrix Potter, was among those to be archived
people
Arts and Entertainment
The Plaza Theatre in Atlanta, Georgia was one of the 300 US cinemas screening
filmTim Walker settles down to watch the controversial gross-out satire
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant- NY- Investment Bank

Not specified: Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant Top tier investment bank i...

Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executive- City of London, Old Street

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executiv...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: An international organisa...

Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwickshire

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwicksh...

Day In a Page

Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that? The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year

Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that?

The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year
Hollande's vanity project is on a high-speed track to the middle of nowhere

Vanity project on a high-speed track to nowhere

France’s TGV network has become mired in controversy
Sports Quiz of the Year

Sports Quiz of the Year

So, how closely were you paying attention during 2014?
Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry, his love of 'Bargain Hunt', and life as a llama farmer

Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry and his love of 'Bargain Hunt'

From Armstrong and Miller to Pointless
Sanchez helps Gunners hold on after Giroud's moment of madness

Sanchez helps Gunners hold on

Olivier Giroud's moment of madness nearly costs them
A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect