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Iceberg PII-A off the coast of Newfoundland
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Iceberg PII-A off the coast of Newfoundland

July 7, 2011
The portion of the Labrador Current that flows to the east and southeast of the island of Newfoundland routinely captures icebergs and sea ice, pulling them southward between Flemish Pass and the Tail of the Banks. This area, known as “Iceberg Alley” also has heavy shipping traffic, and the flow of icebergs pose dangers to maritime interests. Despite the danger, summer tour boats prowl the waters off the Newfoundland coast, bringing tourists close to spectacular floating ice formations.

While icebergs are quite common in this area, huge ice islands are rare. The Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) aboard the Aqua satellite passed over the region on June 30, 2011 and captured this true-color image of Petermann Ice Island A (PII-A) caught up in the currents off the eastern coast of Newfoundland.

The ice island was calved from the Petermann Glacier off the northwestern coast of Greenland on August 5, 2010. The initial calving created a very large tabular iceberg which then fractured into smaller pieces, the largest of which was about 280 square kilometers in size, according to Environment Canada. This was much larger than a similar calving in 2008, which resulted in an ice island of 27 square kilometers, and the largest on record since 1961-1962, when the Canadian Ward Hunt Ice Shelf lost 600 square kilometers of ice in a massive calving.

After colliding with an island in September, 2010 the large ice island broke into two major pieces, dubbed PII-A and PII-B. Shortly afterward, PII-B broke into several smaller pieces, at least two of which became grounded. PII-A has slowly made its way southward, and in early July the 62.5 square kilometer ice island was traveling at 0.6 km/hour towards the Newfoundland coast.

The course of travel of the two ice islands have been monitored by beacons installed in the ice by Environment Canada, as well as by satellite imagery. Environment Canada reported that the beacon on PII-A ceased operation in early June.


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