“On the way a miracle: water become bone”

Purcell Harbour, June 3, 2022, the drift speed of an iceberg is 0.7-3.6 km/hour, so it could have taken up to three years for this iceberg to reach Newfoundland from Greenland
Purcell Harbour, June 3, 2022, the drift speed of an iceberg is 0.7-3.6 km/hour, so it could have taken up to three years for this iceberg to reach Newfoundland from Greenland

Can you guess this riddle, Riddle 69 from The Exeter Book? “On the way a miracle: water becomes bone?”

Finding the miracle where water has become bone is easy in Newfoundland.

Go to icebergfinder.com, as we did every day in May and June while there. (And still do now, during iceberg season.)

Bone-hard icebergs in Newfoundland start out as flotillas of ice calved from glaciers in Western Greenland. Jostled by winds and waves, they journey south, floating at the whim of the Labrador current down Iceberg Alley along the northeastern coastline and around Newfoundland.

Icebergs, a Newfoundland art performance choreographed by nature. A crystalline solidity of ice gliding through the passage of time, edges softening, pieces breaking off, the whole formation dissolving into fluidity in an ocean of water.

Yet, we see so little of the transformation.

According to glaciologists, only nine percent of an iceberg glistens above the water.

They’re discreet, like certain individuals at a party, as the poet Christopher Levenson writes:

Like icebergs we stand around,
brilliant but mostly submerged.
No one approaches.

Icebergs come in a wild array of sizes and shapes. From growlers the size of a grand piano to bergy bits the size of a small house to behemoths exceeding the size of small countries and weighing more than 10 million tonnes. The scale tips at 100,000 to 200,000 tonnes for the average Newfoundland iceberg, its average size equivalent to a 15-storey building.

Every year, about 40,000 icebergs calve from Greenland glaciers. The largest iceberg, the Petermann Ice Island that spawned from a remote floating glacier in northwestern Greenland in August 2010, was four times the size of Manhattan. It quickly broke into giant pieces.

Magellan has encountered these frozen monsters, icebergs much harder than the cubes in your freezer, icebergs that if they collided with a ship, would cause a Titanic event.

When we were drilling offshore Labrador, we hated those Greenland icebergs. In 1980, we (Ranchmen’s Resources), participated with Petro Canada and four other major companies in drilling four wells offshore Labrador. Icebergs were a major problem. They delayed us for 41 days. We spotted  276 icebergs, and 61 had to be towed away to avoid collision with the rig.

On average, every year around 700 to 800 icebergs float aimlessly down to Newfoundland. But in the past three years, that number has dwindled to less than 200.  

In 2022, the last time we in Newfoundland, the International Ice Patrol, a cooperative that’s been monitoring icebergs since the time of the Titanic, reported only 58 icebergs crossing the 48th parallel north midway between Bonavista and St. John’s. Quite a difference compared to 2019 when more than 1,500 icebergs crossed that latitude. Like an aging artist creating fewer pieces.

Their ephemeral nature, their impermanence, makes icebergs even more alluring.

Seeing two icebergs perform was magical. But what if we went back, and up to Labrador… We too may recognize forms within their abstract shapes.

“Dickie Berg cruised fast down the coast of the Rock, missing the opening to Trinity Bay and a Home Coming at Dildo. But it caught a second wind, and slid into Conception Bay for a climax to its journey” fantasied Magellan) (LiveScience Photo Credit: Kenneth J. Pretty Photography 2023)


Campbell, Nancy. The Library of Ice. London, Great Britain: Scribner, 2018.

The Exeter Book, tenth century AD.

Iceberg Finder website. I’m addicted…

Pope, Kristen. “The Art of Iceberg Chasing in Newfoundland.” National Geographic. July 31, 2023.

“A Complete Guide to Icebergs in Newfoundland and Labrador.” Newfoundland and Labrador Tourism website.

Ripenhoff, Meghann. Ice. Santa Fe: Radius Books, 2022.

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