It’s an otherworldly experience to stand on a rocky coast and watch a colossal iceberg slowly drift by. This is exactly what locals and visitors along Iceberg Alley experience each year between late April and early June.
Iceberg Alley refers to the waters of the Atlantic Ocean that run along the coast of Newfoundland and Labrador, in the easternmost point of North America. Here are 11 fascinating facts about the wondrous place.
1. The icebergs break off of glaciers in Greenland and travel south.
The arrival of springtime means the melting of ancient glaciers in the North Atlantic Ocean. As the weather gets warmer, giant swaths of frozen water break off from the ice shelves and glaciers of Greenland. They then begin a journey south along Iceberg Alley that lasts months from the time they calve—break off from the glacier—until they fully melt into the sea. The icebergs only travel at an average of 0.4 miles per hour, or up to 10 miles a day, but their speeds depend on many factors such as ocean currents, wind, and waves.
2. Between 400 to 800 icebergs move past Iceberg Alley every year.
Every spring, hundreds of icebergs slowly make their way past Iceberg Alley. They range in size from small chunks called bergy bits and growlers to colossal structures that loom over small villages. In 2017, a giant iceberg measuring 150 feet tall went aground near the Newfoundland village of Ferryland, dwarfing all of the homes nearby and making headlines around the world.
3. Iceberg Alley is where the Titanic sank.
There is truth to the expression “the tip of the iceberg,” as only a small portion of an iceberg can be seen above water. The saying is familiar to anyone who knows the story of one of history's most famous maritime disasters.
It was in the waters of Iceberg Alley where the ill-fated Titanic collided with an undetected berg. After the ship sank in 1912, Canada, the United States, and with 12 other countries formed the International Ice Patrol to warn vessels of any large, frozen obstacles floating around the North Atlantic.
4. The icebergs of Iceberg Alley come in six distinct shapes.
As icebergs melt, they take on many different forms, creating magnificent shapes and arches until the last bits fade into the sea. Their various appearances can be categorized into one of six shapes: Blocks are square-shaped icebergs with steep sides and a flat top, while wedges have a flat surface that slopes from one end to the other. Pinnacles are icebergs with, as their name suggests, a pinnacle or peak shape, often referred to as a pyramid. Dry docs are u-shaped icebergs that have a flat water-level section in the middle with two pinnacles or columns on either side. Domes are softly rounded, and tabular icebergs have flat tops with a width much greater than their height.
5. The icebergs create vibrant underwater ecosystems in Iceberg Alley.
The waters of Iceberg Alley are rich ecosystems that feed whales, seals, and other marine life. This is thanks to the icebergs that break off from the bottom of a glacier, bringing soil and other land-based nutrients with them into the sea. The same thing happens when large icebergs scrape the bottom of the ocean—they release the rich nutrients that are trapped on the seafloor. When they melt, the freshwater creates small currents within the salty ocean; these are excellent conditions for zooplankton and phytoplankton. The presence of this plankton makes the waters of Iceberg Alley prime feeding grounds for many aquatic animals.
6. You can sometimes hear the icebergs break apart.
As an iceberg melts, its weight shifts, creating an imbalance and often forcing it to tip to one side. Sometimes, this even causes the entire iceberg to roll over. The force of the movement can be so great it makes the iceberg explode, sending shards of frozen water into the air.
The locals compare the sound of this breaking up to the boom of a cannon. You can hear them below the surface, too: For many years, researchers have recorded loud underwater noises coming from the moving and melting icebergs.
7. You can track the icebergs’ movement along Iceberg Alley.
Spring in Newfoundland brings people determined to lay their eyes on one of the colossal ice giants. For anyone interested in iceberg chasing, there’s a simple tracker that can help; it lets users locate and trace the movements of the many bergs making their way south. The government of Canada also provides daily updates on the presence of icebergs in the area.
8. The best way to see the icebergs is to get up close by boat.
Many coastal towns—including St. John’s, the capital city of Newfoundland—have boat tours that take visitors close to the icebergs, providing a unique perspective of these ancient, floating blocks of ice. The captains of these vessels are experienced in navigating the tricky waters around icebergs; adventurous types may even choose to kayak or take a Zodiac out to get a better view.
9. Twillingate is the unofficial capital of Iceberg Alley.
Twillingate is a small, picturesque fishing village in the Twillingate Islands. It’s unofficially known as the “iceberg capital of the world” for being one of the best spots on the planet to see the glacial monoliths. From Twillingate, you can take one of the boat or kayak tours to get up close to the icebergs. Another option is to hike along the eastern side of Spiller’s Cove Coastal Trail or walk up to Long Point Lighthouse to get the best views of any icebergs adrift at sea.
10. You can toast a trip to Iceberg Alley with a drink made from iceberg water.
The people of Newfoundland have found an innovative use for iceberg water—they make beer, wine, and vodka with it! Boats trawl the waters around Newfoundland collecting pieces of ice that have broken off. Once collected, it's melted down and added to select beverages. Toss an ice cube from a berg into a drink for some extra fizz and crackle while taking in the spectacular sights along Iceberg Alley.
11. Icebergs aren’t the only things to see along Iceberg Alley.
People come for the icebergs, but leave just as impressed by many other beautiful sights found along the coastline of Iceberg Alley, both in the water and on land. Be sure to stop for some famous fish and chips in one of the historic seaside villages and check out Newfoundland's many historical and cultural attractions.
The wildlife viewing is incredible, too: The waters are home to minke, sperm, and humpback whales, and the rocky cliffs abound with seabirds, including the 500,000 Atlantic Puffins who nest at the Witless Bay Ecological Reserve. The area is also home to some of the greatest numbers of bald eagles in North America. You might even catch sight of a moose—the government estimates that 110,000 moose inhabit Newfoundland (which is approximately the size of the U.S. state of Tennessee).