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Icebergs Go Bottoms Up

  • by Jenny Bahn

Ever wanted to know what a flipped iceberg looks like? San Francisco-based designer Alex Cornell traveled to Antarctica and accidentally found out. Bitterly blue and free of any snow on its surface, the hulking mass looks about as cold and clear as anything--and a special treat considering icebergs, in their proper upright state, normally reveal about 10% of its bulk. The rest lives under the surface of the water, never to be seen. Unless, on the rare occasion, they flip after a certain amount of melting alters the weight distribution enough to turn it belly up.

Cornell described the inside of the 'berg to Smithsonian Magazine as "almost like an ant colony," with water flowing through tunnels in the glassy ice. The pure, jewel-tone of the iceberg's underside is the result of a few different things, the first being compression. Over the years, air gets pushed out, making the ice more dense. That density, in turn, soaks up a small amount of red light that leaves a blue hue in the reflected light that our eyes actually see. Lastly, time spent in the ocean means time spent soaking up various minerals and matter, adding to the iceberg's rich shade.

Though a spectacular sight to behold, surely, the frequency with which flipped icebergs are now showing up is cause for some concern, namely about global warming. Of the trend, Justin Burton, assistant professor at Emory University, told Smithsonian that stunted tongues of ice have receded much closer to shore, meaning that comparatively thin, flimsy icebergs ripe for flipping break off near land. "It’s like squirting toothpaste out of a tube," he says. "A little bit of toothpaste comes out the tube, then it breaks off, and a little bit more comes out the tube, then it breaks off. So you get these really thin pieces of ice that flip over right when they’ve broken off.”

You can see more of Cornell's trip to Antartica, including more upright 'bergs, below. 

Photos courtesy of Alex Cornell.




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