IMAGE: HELICOPTER ON ICEBERG
Stephen Jaquiery  /  AFP/Getty Images
A tourist helicopter sits Thursday on the far left side of a large iceberg, which was visible from the New Zealand coast and drifting about 60 miles offshore.
updated 11/21/2006 11:20:13 AM ET 2006-11-21T16:20:13

An iceberg has been spotted from the New Zealand shore for the first time in living memory, drawing tourists via helicopter and scientists who are trying to determine where it and several other giant chunks drifting in the country's waters originated from.

Last year, icebergs were seen in New Zealand water for the first time in 56 years, but couldn't be seen from the shore. This year one was visible from Dunedin on South Island on Thursday.

It has since moved away, driven by winds and ocean currents.

The floating ice blocks have become a tourist attraction, as sightseers pay up to $330 each to fly over the icebergs — first spotted headed toward southern New Zealand several weeks ago.

A maritime navigation warning was issued at the time.

Theories about where on the Antarctic coastline the icebergs originated have gripped the science community since they were first spotted.

But scientists have been reluctant to blame global warming.

“We’ve been monitoring these things for such a short time, it’s impossible to see. To say this is unusual and related to global warming is just not possible,” Paul Augustinus, an Auckland University glacier expert, told the New Zealand Herald earlier this month.

“It’s a fairly frequent occurrence; it’s just unusual for such large bergs to get so far north,” he added.

Which ice shelf?
Mike Williams, an oceanographer at the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research, said a sample has been taken from one iceberg when a helicopter landed on it several days ago, and has been sent for analysis to Victoria University in Wellington.

"I believe it came from the (Antarctic's) Ronne ice shelf," Williams said.

"Some people have proposed it came from the Ross Sea (on Antarctic's north coast) but I think that it is unlikely. The (ocean) current would have made that very difficult and they would have had to travel very fast," he noted, adding that the sample should resolve the matter.

Williams said the last time an iceberg was visible from the New Zealand shore was June 1931.

IMAGE: HELICOPTER ON ICEBERG
Stephen Jaquiery  /  AFP/Getty Images
Tourists are paying up to $330 to take a helicopter trip to this iceberg off New Zealand.
Helicopters Otago pilot Graeme Gale said the icebergs continued to be an impressive sight, regardless of how many times he flew over them with tourists.

"It won't last forever but its pretty unique," he said.

Maritime New Zealand spokesman Steve Corbett said the icebergs were not being actively monitored, as "they pose no imminent danger to shipping."

'Noisy sort of thing'
Williams said some of the initial 100 icebergs are "surviving a bit longer than I initially expected and some of them have taken a different route than I initially expected."

"It's highlighted that trying to forecast what icebergs do is actually very, very hard," he said. "(But) they're definitely not going to get bigger" as they drift further from Antarctica.

TV3 News reporter Mark Price, who landed on one of the icebergs by helicopter Wednesday, said the ice was irregular in shape "and with beautiful blue water round it, I guess that must be the fresh (melt) water."

He said the slowly disintegrating ice block gave out a "gunshot" as it cracked up — a process that could take some months.

"It's a noisy sort of a thing, really," he told TV3's "Campbell Live" program.

Copyright 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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