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C-130 News: Hunting icebergs from the air: 'It doesn't get old'


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Spotting an iceberg is a thrill that lures many people to Newfoundland and Labrador, but nobody does it quite like the International Ice Patrol.

This small unit of the United States Coast Guard watches the sea from the sky, keeping track of icebergs that endanger ships in the North Atlantic.

The Ice Patrol uses the latest technology, but much of this crucial work is still done by people with binoculars. Marine Science Technician Brett Reel works as an ice spotter from a side window of the plane.

2017-06-08  -Ice.jpg

Spotting an iceberg is a thrill that lures many people to Newfoundland and Labrador, but nobody does it quite like the International Ice Patrol.

This small unit of the United States Coast Guard watches the sea from the sky, keeping track of icebergs that endanger ships in the North Atlantic.

The Ice Patrol uses the latest technology, but much of this crucial work is still done by people with binoculars. Marine Science Technician Brett Reel works as an ice spotter from a side window of the plane.

"Today, we are flying north which is a busy flight." Reel said. "Every time it's a busy flight. Because all the icebergs are coming down the coast in the Labrador current. Today we've found probably three or four hundred, so far."

The mission

For the crew, the day begins at St. John's International Airport.

A massive Hercules C-130 airplane is loaded with more than 20,000 kilos of fuel for the 10-hour round trip, to the northern tip of Labrador and back.

Commander Gabrielle McGrath has worked with the Ice Patrol for nearly a decade.

"The mission of the international ice patrol is to monitor the iceberg danger in the Atlantic Ocean, and provide relevant iceberg warning products to the maritime community." she said.

"So this time of year, things are starting to slow down a little bit. That's one of the main goals of this flight is to see how many icebergs are up to the north, and how many we expect to come down for the rest of the season."

The patrol may have a private plane, but this is no pleasure trip. Inside the Hercules, you'll find none of the comforts of commercial air travel. It's extremely loud; instead of a menu, the seat pockets contain life preservers, and every spare inch of space is crammed with equipment.

Iceberg Alley

On this flight, the patrol is going up and then down Iceberg Alley, the flow of ocean current that brings icebergs from Greenland, down the coast of Labrador and towards Newfoundland. But that current intersects with one of the world's busiest shipping lanes.

"When we have icebergs in that area, we set an iceberg limit." says Commander McGrath. "Which is basically saying, if the ships stay to the south and east of that line, they'll stay out of the danger of iceberg collision. So they may have to adjust their course up to 400 miles out of their way to go around that dangerous area of icebergs."

Sophisticated radar helps with ice detection, but up here, there are millions of pieces of ice floating on the surface. Brett Reel says that's where the crew comes in.

"Sometimes the radar has a really hard time telling the difference between sea ice and an iceberg. An iceberg is coming from a glacier, normally from Greenland. And sea ice is just the surface of the ocean that's frozen." he said.

All of the data is fed into a computer model, that creates a predictive map of iceberg locations.

The International Ice Patrol was created in 1913, in the aftermath of the Titanic disaster. It has flown in every iceberg season since, except during the two world wars. Now, this season is winding down. But for the crew, the things they see from up here don't just get entered in a computer.

Even today, we're flying only 400, 500 feet off the water, and you look down like, man that's really cool. I actually took video on my phone, because it doesn't get old." said Reel.

Marine Science Technician Lauren Crocker is finishing her first year with the Ice Patrol. She says it's a posting she will never forget.

"I think the most important thing is this is something that not everyone gets to do. It feels special, you feel like you're doing something that's not only important to the maritime community, but it's just so unique. How could you pass it up?"

See source for more images and video: http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/newfoundland-labrador/ice-patrol-1.4152145


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