Science in the Southern Ocean

Day 19: Icebergs are AMAZING!

One of the coolest things about scientific fieldwork is that you find yourself in far-off lands and foreign environments, and you can never anticipate how these places will surprise you. Today, after weeks of not seeing… well, much of anything, the Southern Ocean offered up two amazing icebergs. Thanks to the kindness of our Captain and Chief Scientist, who were willing to deviate from the ship’s course and our sampling schedule, everyone on board got a very close look at both icebergs.  Despite the extreme cold, many people stood outside for quite a while reveling in the awesome view: waves crashed around the base of the icebergs and churned up slushy debris, the intense turquoise of the ice stood out from the gray sea and sky, and the bottom of the icebergs glowed faintly below the surface. Only about 10% of an iceberg’s entire mass is above water, so it’s difficult to calculate how large the underwater portion is – and important that ships don’t get too close.

As in many professions, scientists log hours inside, in the lab and in an office, but they also spend time doing research in interesting places. While the hours in the field can be long, and sometimes uncomfortable, these places usually offer up spectacular scenery, which is another reason why science rocks.

Most of today’s writing time was spent staring at icebergs, so I leave you with the movie and these photos – science returns tomorrow.  I also suggest listening to the recent RadioLab short featuring Bigelow researcher Dr. Willie Wilson discuss why the world needs phytoplankton.

Steaming past the first iceberg of the day.

Tip of the first iceberg.

Iceberg appreciators.

Approaching the second iceberg of the day.


  1. Wow! Great pics and movie

  2. Sensational, phenomenal, breath-taking…and then words escape you and you’re left completely speechless, which is the global point that nature is trying to make.

    Doc Fowler

  3. Are the icebergs the coolest things you’ve seen on your trip in your opinion? What wildlife have you seen so far?

    • That is a tough question to answer, because we’re fortunate to see so much cool stuff. The icebergs were very, very impressive, and probably my favorite thing so far. Other cool things have been looking at the coccolithophores under the microscope for the first time, seeing the glaciers on Heard Island… it’s hard to choose. For wildlife we’ve had a few Minke, Pilot, and Blue whale sightings, lots of birds like different types of albatrosses, petrels, and shearwaters. A few people saw penguins and we’re hoping for more sightings of those.

  4. This is really good stuff, i can really get a good idea of what is actually going on there. I was wondering, when you are doing your research, if all of your equipment runs properly, and if any of the salt in the air can throw off the data that you are collecting?

    • Thanks, I’m happy you’re interested in what we’re doing! For the most part the equipment runs properly, although there are always a few quirks with the machines that need to get worked out at the start of the trip. So far, we haven’t had any major issues with any of our instruments and we are fortunate to have a machine shop on the ship, so if something does break, a new part can be made. The salt in the air doesn’t affect our data, but other particles in the air, like dust, sand, and soot can affect ocean color measurements. Another sensitive measurement is salinity, which is measured out to four digits. The salinity samples need to be kept out of the air as much as possible, not because of salt in the air, but because if the water evaporates it will change the measurement and skew our data.

  5. Really cool video. The music really goes along with the pictures.

    • Thanks, I’m happy you liked it and are following along with our expedition!

  6. I liked the video because the icebergs were so huge and white. I have never seen an iceberg before so thank you Rebecca! From, Olan

    • You’re welcome, Olan!

  7. These photos are fabulous! Thank you so much for sharing them.I am a weather buff and am wondering what kind of temperature the air is when you’re seeing those icebergs. And also the size of your research boat?
    How many of you on board? And what’s for dinner????

    • Thanks for checking out our expedition! The air temperature was in the high twenties on the days we saw icebergs, but wind chill made it feel substantially colder. The water temperature was about 30F on those days. The R/V Revelle is close to 300 feet long and there are about 50 us on board, half are scientists, half are crew members. Last night’s dinner was salad, shrimp stir-fry, rice, chicken, peas, bread, green beans, and birthday cake — we are definitely well fed.

  8. Dear Rebecca,your video is really cool.How big do you think the first iceberg,top to bottem,was?How big do you think second one was?I also liked the picture you took.Thanks for making this blog so any one can be updated about the expedition.From,Isabelle.

    • Hi Isabelle, I’m guessing the first iceberg was about 100 – 120 feet above the surface. 90% of an iceberg is below water though, and I will let you do the math to figure out how many feet high the entire iceberg was. I’m happy you’re enjoying the photos and website!

  9. Dear Rebecca,
    Hi! That is one HUGE iceberg! Were you on duty when you got to see it, or did you get to relax? Did the iceberg distract people who were deploying the CTD? Is there such a thing as SMALL iceberg?

    • Hi Emily, we saw those in the early afternoon, so I was working, but was able to go outside for the iceberg viewing party on deck. The iceberg was still fairly far away when the CTD was being deployed, so I imagine the people doing it weren’t too distracted because they knew they’d soon get a better look. There is such thing as a small iceberg! Sometimes there are chunks that break off that can be the size of a car, or even smaller.

  10. Hi Rebecca, Day: 19 icebergs
    How close did you get to those icebergs? They don’t look big when your far away from them but some are huge. I learned that more htan three quaters of the iceberg is under water. From the one you saw do you know about how many gallons of water an iceberg contains if it were to melt all the way? I hope to see one one day.

    • Hi Christopher. We were very close to the icebergs, probably 1000 away — close enough to see some of the iceberg under the surface of the water. I’m guessing they were both 100 – 120 feet high. I don’t know how many gallons of water that would be, but if you do the research and find out I would love to know the answer!

  11. Hi Rebecca, Day 19: Icebergs
    How close did you get to those icebergs? They don’t look big when your far away from them but some are huge. I learned that more than 3 quarters of the iceberg is under water. From the one you saw do you know about how many gallons of water an iceberg contains if it were to melt all the way? I hope to see one one day.

    From Chris

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