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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)


Air Date: Week of

Sun scalloping (photo: Mark Seth Lender)

Icebergs are monumental and awe-inspiring and also potentially dangerous. Writer mark Seth Lender came close to the mighty mountains of ice and found them also beautiful and guarding hidden secrets.


CURWOOD: When glaciers reach the sea, they release icebergs and for many they're both fascinating and dangerous. Writer Mark Seth Lender encountered his first icebergs off Greenland aboard ship with Adventure Canada. He was impressed by their unexpected beauty and scale, and that something special deep inside that few people have ever seen – or rather, heard.

LENDER: In the channeled quiet of dawn, at the first thin edge of Antemeridian, at latitudes dark this time of year, not far from the place they were born, under sky so clear, on a sea like mercury: Icebergs!

Eons of snow crushed by its own weight is their point of conception, in embryo a slow-flowing river of ice: white from above, blue within, hard as the ancient granite shield wearing away beneath. Towards the sea the ice river goes, drawn by an irresistible force. There, at a shore of her own making, Ilulissat Glacier lies down to give them birth, sons and daughters made of ice. Within the narrows of the fjord they abide, then stroll at a casual pace out into Disko Bay. Wind and current carries Ilulissat’s children on, and on; too distant now to hear the water breaking, the crashing, the waves thrashing in the moment they came into the world. Having drifted away, they will never be back.

Iceberg melting (photo: Mark Seth Lender)

By glacier, whole ranges of mountains return to sand and dust. Peaks are worn down into valleys. The valleys scoured by a torrent roaring beneath the ice. The watercourses and the bays are drowned in silt; the land is transformed, unrecognizable. Just so, by sunlight, by salt, mountains of ice waste away. Icebergs too large to measure at human scale are carved and scalloped in the brilliance of the arctic sun and on the waterline weathered by currents and by tides. Edges undercut, the balance of above and below becomes untenable. With no warning, icebergs pitch-pole like great ships in a following sea, or, like ocean liners roll, over on their sides.

These tracks in the ice are caused by ancient air coming to the surface (photo: Mark Seth Lender)

Tumbling like foundering galleons their final treasure is then revealed. Sequestered within the tiny crystalline flakes of snow there was air, trapped as snow became ice. Now in a sudden underwater rush (like the gush of champagne into the narrow glass) ancient atmosphere blind to all things for ten thousand years sings suddenly escaping. It is the last long gasp of an iceberg returning its breath to the world, a shimmering, bubbling froth, breaking…

Iceberg off the coast of Greenland (photo: Mark Seth Lender)

Along with the breath the remnant of the body and the blood also depart. Ringlets and driplets chime the surface, thermoclines in sinewy patterns spread underneath; the music and the form of Icebergs vanishing.

The dimples on this ice are caused by the sun, and the deep ravines are the result of ancient air escaping (photo: Mark Seth Lender)

Ocean was the source and to the source they have returned.

Sun scalloping (photo: Mark Seth Lender)

CURWOOD: To check out some photographs Mark Seth Lender took of icebergs from just a few meters away, drift on over to our website, LOE.org.

More sun scalloping (photo: Mark Seth Lender)



Visit Mark Seth Lender’s website


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