A bounty of bergs: Ice patrol counts 670 in shipping lanes

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A bounty of bergs: Ice patrol counts 670 in shipping lanes

Transatlantic shipping off the coast of Newfoundland hasn't been the same since that vicious wind storm that struck in mid-March.

Before the storm brought three days of hurricane-force winds to some parts of the island, there were hardly any icebergs to speak of — but that quickly changed.

"In a one-week period we went from 37 icebergs in the shipping lanes to 455," said Cmdr. Gabrielle McGrath of the U.S. Coast Guard's International Ice Patrol.

"It was very surprising."

Surprising because 30 days ago, the ice patrol was predicting a light season for bergs.

"And then we did a flight on March 29 following that storm system, and we saw hundreds of icebergs in the same region where we had just seen a handful," McGrath said.

"It was a big change over a short period of time."

In almost a decade of flying with the patrol off Newfoundland and Labrador, McGrath said she's never seen such a surge.

Global shipping affected

The International Ice Patrol was established after the sinking of the Titanic in 1912, its primary purpose being to alert shipping companies operating between Europe, the U.S. and Canada of the presence of any icebergs.

Warnings are issued as to where the bergs are and how far south the patrol predicts the ice will drift along the Labrador current — something that's come up a lot in the last 30 days. 

"The ships have to divert their track. They have to go 400 to 500 miles out of their way to go around the iceberg limit," McGrath said.

She estimated Wednesday that there are about 300 icebergs north of the oil production systems and rigs drilling offshore, but said a weather pattern has been pushing them to the west.

"And hopefully they'll continue to move west and stay out of the dangerous area around the rigs," said McGrath.

At the end of April, the ice patrol has counted 670 icebergs in the shipping lanes, nearly as many as the 687 reported for all of last year.

The commander is reluctant to predict what's next for the remainder of the iceberg season, which normally extends into July.

"With what happened over the last month, I'm kind of cautious to give a prediction because it could change pretty quickly."