The coastline of Newfoundland in eastern Canada has received increased attention due to a large number of unexpected visitors. For weeks, a larger than usual amount of icebergs and drifting sea ice has been washed up along the shores of the islands. For tourists and locals alike, the bergs and ice pose a spectacular photo motive while sailors and International Ice Patrol worry about the impact on shipping lanes and marine traffic.

The small town of Ferryland has become a tourist magnet due to large icebergs off the coast, clearly towering over the town houses. Picture: Reuters
The small town of Ferryland has become a tourist magnet due to large icebergs off the coast, clearly towering over the town houses. Picture: Reuters

The shores of Newfoundland have been a little more crowded as of late, both at land and sea, making for a sightseer's dream and a shipper's nightmare. Coastal roads saw unusually significant traffic of late as sightseers flocked to glimpse several icebergs near the eastern shore of the Avalon Peninsula -- the latest of which is a massive chunk of ice stuck in shallow water near the coast of Ferryland. But what happens to these icy wanderers when they move into coastal waters, like Ferryland's visitor? Not surprisingly, the bergs will melt. Eventually at least. The warmer environment of the south comes at the iceberg from all sides, with warmer air causing melting above the water line, and warmer water eating away at the ice from below. Melt water pooling atop the berg trickles through cracks in the ice, contributing to breaking it into smaller pieces - something that's already been happening to the now-famous Ferryland tourist attraction. Water temperatures hovering just below freezing, with similar air temperatures, have given would-be iceberg hunters on the Avalon good viewing opportunities. "It's a huge iceberg and it's in so close that people can get a good photograph of it," Ferryland Mayor Adrian Kavanagh said. Kavanagh was referring to the latest addition to the collection of icebergs. "It's the biggest one I ever seen around here."

What’s good for tourism in Ferryland, poses significant threats to marine traffic control. Picture: CTV News
What’s good for tourism in Ferryland, poses significant threats to marine traffic control. Picture: CTV News

Though quite the sight, these frozen visitors are a big nuisance for the shipping industry. At this time of year the waters of the shipping lanes near the Grand Banks would typically host about 80 icebergs. But, as of this week, the U.S. Coast Guard International Ice Patrol says there are a staggering 481 icebergs in the region, according to a report. That number is more common in late May or early June. Gabrielle McGrath, commander of the International Ice Patrol, said she expects this year's total number of icebergs affecting North Atlantic shipping lanes to exceed last year's total of 687, and may approach record numbers by the end of the season in late September. McGrath expects the fourth consecutive extreme ice season;  2016's "Iceberg Alley" season got off to an unusually early start as well. The International Ice Patrol was launched after the sinking of the Titanic, which famously collided with a berg in this same region 105 years ago last week. The Canadian Coast Guard ice bulletin for the region covering Ferryland's waters includes a special ice warning, citing "bergy water" and the "unusual presence of sea ice."

The chart clearly shows the increased number of icebergs along the coast of Newfoundland. Those bergs will eventually melt or drift on and pose a danger for marine traffic. Picture: The Weather Network
The chart clearly shows the increased number of icebergs along the coast of Newfoundland. Those bergs will eventually melt or drift on and pose a danger for marine traffic. Picture: The Weather Network

There are different theories as to why more icebergs are floating into shipping lanes this year, but winds and climate change are certainly part of the formula. McGrath suspects the violent wind storm that caused damage in St. John's several weeks ago set things in motion, both breaking up sea ice to allow bergs smooth sailing, and setting up winds to drive them south. In terms of pushing more icebergs into prime viewing range for Newfoundland tourists, it depends on the location of specific weather systems to come. "You want the origins of the strong winds to be co-located with the icebergs' source region, which is off the coast of Labrador," The Weather Network meteorologist Nadine Hinds-Powell says. "But in this instance winds increase as a result of a mid-Atlantic low-pressure system that tracks northward. So the movement will be primarily with icebergs that are already close to harbour as opposed to icebergs that are further up in the north Atlantic."

Source: The Weather Network, CTV News