Video: Gigantic ice block floats toward Canada

msnbc.com
updated 7/21/2011 7:56:32 PM ET 2011-07-21T23:56:32

A Manhattan-sized chunk of ice that broke off a glacier in Greenland nearly a year ago is drifting toward the coast of Newfoundland, Canada — providing a stunning sight to scientists and curiosity-seekers but also posing a potential threat to ships.

The ice island is 20 square miles — roughly 6.2 miles long and 3.1 miles wide. It was formed when a 97-square-mile chunk of ice broke off Greenland's Petermann Glacier on Aug. 5, 2010, possibly due to warming of the Atlantic Ocean.

The ice island, the largest single chunk remaining from the massive parent chunk, has been winding its way through Arctic waters ever since.

In the past few days, it has been moving south at a rate of 5 to 6 miles per hour. On Thursday, it was about 11.5 miles off the Labrador coast, drifting toward Newfoundland, said Lionel Hache, senior ice forecaster with Canadian Ice Service in Ottawa. The Ice Service, a department of Environment Canada, has been tracking the movement of the ice island.

Story: Largest Arctic Iceberg in 50 Years Spotted

Hache said it was hard to project what course the ice island would take because it was following the water current. "The general direction is south but not in a straight line," he said. "You have different branches of the current. One of the branches could bring it toward shore, other branches could move it further offshore."

It's unlikely the ice island will get too close to shore because it would probably be "grounded" — meaning it would touch the bottom of the ocean — before reaching the coast, Hache said.

Nonetheless, it could interfere with shipping lanes and possibly threaten some offshore oil rigs, he said.

But, Hache noted, "a ship going through this water is already watching for icebergs. This one is quite easy to see, so unless you're blind you shouldn't run into this thing."

The Canadian Ice Service has been tracking the ice island, dubbed PII-A, via satellite and radio beacon.

'This was unreal'
A Labrador crab fisherman, Eldred Burden, shot breathtaking video of the ice chunk late last month from his trawler off the coast of Black Tickle, Labrador. Pieces have been breaking off, reducing its size since then.

“I’ve seen icebergs before but this was unreal. It looked like something that shouldn’t be there,” the 52-year-old fisherman recently told the Toronto Star from his home in Port Hope Simpson.

He described the ice chunk as a dazzling white, with valleys, brooks, ponds and even seals on it.

Burden told the Star he poured himself a cup of coffee and just stared.

“I’d never seen anything like this. The boat felt very small.”

Hache said there should be no fear of an impending apocalypse.

"Except for navigation I don’t think there will be any threat; it won't ever go too close to shore," he said.

Msnbc.com staff and Our Amazing Planet contributed to this story.

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