Glaciers, Calving and Bergy Bits

Glacier’s beget icebergs in a process called calving. When the terminus becomes unstable due to forward movement of the glacier, chunks of ice break off.  Chunks of ice falling on land are just chunks of ice, best reserved for a glass of vodka. Chunks of ice falling into the water become icebergs. Sometimes they are large and qualify as an iceberg, but the smaller inferior ones are referred to as “Bergy Bits”. Much to our surprise, we learned that “bergy bits” is a real scientific term.

Bergy bits are a bit like fish chum set out through the fjord as bait to lure the unsuspecting ship to the larger icebergs and then onto the glacier itself. Icebergs are shifty, using their bits to no good.  Was the Titanic lured by bergy bits to the iceberg? Would we meet our end at the glacier?

So there we were at the mouth of Glacier Bay, supposedly one of the most beautiful fjords in all the world. It is set amidst snow capped mountains full of glaciers, cascading waterfalls, and lush green forests of pine. At the end of the fjord is the crowning jewel, Margerie Glacier, a wall of shimmering blue ice.

This should be a photographer’s paradise, but we were met with thick fog and a simple trail of intriguing bergy bits floating just ahead. Like any gullible photographer, the temptation was too strong, we followed the trail of bergy bits.

The journey up the fjord begins

The journey up the fjord begins

Mystery awaits ahead on the Bergy Bit Trail

Mystery awaits ahead on the Bergy Bit Trail

As the density of the bergy bits increased, we could hear explosions ahead in the fog, sounding like mortar shells – a large crack followed by a thunderous boom. Had another cruise ship met its end?

Just as we feared the worst, the Margerie Glacier emerged ahead. We couldn’t quite see the top of the glacier, nor the mountains surrounding us, but for a period of time we could see the glimmering blue glacier. Click, click, click.

Catamaran at Margery Glacier

We weren’t the only ones who made the treacherous journey.

The risk was worth it, and we were able to shoot the glacier in its entirety

Margerie Glacier

Panorama of Margerie Glacier

The calving sounds like the crack of thunder as huge chunks of ice rip free from the face of the glacier. As the chunks of ice hit the water they explode, sounding like mortar shells exploding around us. The resulting tsunami wave of water and bergy bits was often enough to sway our ship in the swell.

A large chunk of glacier calving – the formation of bergy bits.

The explosion from ice into water.

Once last look at the glacier as we departed

Once last look at the glacier as we departed

It’s all about the light, even if its through the fog.

To learn more about the definitions of icebergs, bergy bits and growlers, visit the National Ocean Service website.