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Chasing (and Tasting) Icebergs in Newfoundland, Canada

The Arctic is warming faster than any place on Earth. And as it warms up, more and more icebergs fall off their mother glaciers into the sea.

I heard that Newfoundland’s Iceberg Alley had been seeing the highest number of icebergs in the past 25 years, so I came to survey and document this destructive yet beautiful phenomenon.

The result of the receding Arctic ice shelf are these stunning Goliaths that can be viewed up close in the Iceberg Capital of the word. Twillingate is one of Newfoundland’s best locations for admiring these glacial giants that break off the ice cap in Baffin Island and Greenland and take several years to float south and ultimately melt into the North Atlantic Ocean.

It was these types of icebergs that sank the Titanic just 400 miles off Newfoundland’s coast.

As National Geographic prepares the 10th edition of their world atlas, the shrinking Arctic ice sheet is one of the most striking changes in the publication’s history.

As the ocean heats up due to global warming, Arctic sea ice has been locked in a downward spiral. Since the late 1970s, the ice has retreated by 12 percent per decade.

According to NASA, Greenland is losing three times as much ice each year as they did in the '90s. Summer sea ice cover is half as big as it was from 1979 to 2000, and some scientists are predicting an ice-free arctic by the end of the decade.

An iceberg off Twillingate, Newfoundland. (Photo: Tyson Sadler)

An iceberg off Twillingate, Newfoundland. (Photo: Tyson Sadler)

But how does this happen?

Clean, fresh snow reflects away about 90 percent of the sunlight that hits it. But as the ice softens, its structure changes, lowering the reflectivity and absorbing more heat. As it melts away, more water and land are exposed, both of which are darker, and both of which absorb more heat. This in turn melts more ice, creating a feedback loop that can accelerate quickly.

This cycle is responsible for the increase of ice breaking off northern glaciers and the formation of icebergs.

As the Arctic ice sheet recedes at unprecedented levels, some scientists are testing a theory that the tundra fires in Canada, massive wildfires in Colorado, and pollution from coal-fired power plants in Europe and China sent an unexpectedly thick layer of soot over the arctic region last summer, which settled onto several parts of the arctic ice cap, increasing the amount of sunlight the snow absorbed, which in turn accelerated the melting.

Canada's cold northern waters are a safe haven for humpback whales who travel thousands of miles to feed on the abundant caplin (Photo: Tyson Sadler)

Canada's cold northern waters are a safe haven for humpback whales who travel thousands of miles to feed on the abundant caplin (Photo: Tyson Sadler)

Not so long ago, the storied northern pacific route from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean required an icebreaker ship to navigate it.

This summer, people are attempting the passage in kayak.

Tyson Sadler is a journalist and filmmaker currently on assignment in Twillingate, Newfoundland, Canada. Follow him on Instagram & Twitter at @tysonsadler.