Destructive Beauty: Icebergs Flip with the Power of an Atomic Bomb

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Destructive Beauty: Icebergs Flip Like Atomic Bombs

It might look like icebergs are gentle giants, but when they flip over, they can release a powerful force that can kill. This shows off their beautiful bellies, but it also causes earthquakes and tsunamis, and it’s possible for them to swallow nearby boats.

But why do these huge ice giants fall over in the first place? To understand this process, let’s start by talking about what an iceberg is.

The picture was taken hours after this iceberg has flipped. Image credits: Chris Feichtner

Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says that an iceberg is a huge piece of ice that has broken off from a glacier or shelf ice and is moving in the ocean. Also, even though they float in the salty sea, icebergs are made of freshwater because they are formed from snow. But they have to meet certain requirements in order to be called icebergs.

Icebergs are generally submerged underwater and the tips you see floating are barely 10% of their total mass. Image credits: Greenland Travel

Icebergs must be at least 16 feet above sea level at their widest point, 98 to 164 feet thick, and cover at least 5,382 square feet of space. The next smallest thing is called a “bergy bit” or “growler.” Bergy pieces are usually medium to large chunks of ice that are at least 3 feet above sea level at their tallest point. They should cover an area of 1076 to 2229 square feet. Anything smaller than that is called a growler. Often, they’re about the size of a car or bus.

An iceberg is very solid because most of its weight stays below the water because of gravity. At this point, icebergs are not likely to flip over. Because of this, the chance of an iceberg turning is highest when it first forms.

Iceberg A-76 is the largest iceberg in the world. Image credits: The European Space Agency

Think about how when you push a rubber duck or a plastic toy beneath, it will come back to the surface of the water exactly where it was. These things will find the most safe position based on gravity, which is also what flips an iceberg. If an iceberg breaks off from a glacier and falls into the water, its uneven shape makes it very unstable. It will try to put most of its weight below the surface so that it can float steadily with the help of gravity.

In the movie below, you can see this exactly how it looks. It shows an iceberg breaking apart and then stopping in one place after lowering most of its weight. Lake Jokulsárlón in Iceland is where the video was shot. People come to the lake to see the icebergs that break off of Breiamerkurjokull Glacier.

Even though it’s a beautiful sight, it can be very dangerous. Small icebergs might not be dangerous, but big ones, which there are lots of, could cause earthquakes or tsunamis.

At the moment, Iceberg A-76, a huge chunk of ice that broke off from Antarctica’s Ronne Ice Shelf, is the world’s biggest iceberg. It covers about 4320 square kilometres, which is a bit more than the Spanish island of Majorca. It’s scary to think about how much force something so huge could make.

A study from the University of Chicago found that when icebergs break off, they can release as much energy as some of the worst natural disasters in the world, or even more than an atomic bomb. When icebergs flip over, they can cause tsunamis. If they happen close to land or another solid surface, the ground may shake so hard that it can be seen as an earthquake.

A small model of an iceberg flip has been made by the experts. It’s clear that gravity is pulling most of the model iceberg down into the water. It stirs the water up very badly and makes a wave. Think about what it would look like with real icebergs.

But icebergs are dangerous even when they’re not falling over. Just look at what happened with the Titanic. In 1912, an underwater piece of an iceberg scraped against the side of a British ocean liner for about seven seconds. The ship finally sank in Iceberg Alley, which is very dangerous.

Making the International Ice Patrol was done to keep people from getting hurt by icebergs. They find and keep an eye on icebergs and let ships know about possible dangers.


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