National Geographic : 1968 Jun
Tracking Danger With the Ice Patrol with flames licking from its monstrous jaws. The "bombing" I had just seen was a rou tine United States Coast Guard operation to mark icebergs for quick identification in drift pattern studies. It is a goggles-and-neck-scarf kind of flying, but the bombardier seldom misses. If he does, the plane circles back for another round. When he hits, the dye-a mix ture of rhodamine-B for color, calcium chlo ride for penetration-spreads a swath of color a yard or more wide down the face of the ice. Bergs Meet Death in the Gulf Stream Below us now, the red iceberg and others were moving south of the 48th parallel. On a heading for the Gulf Stream (map, page 785), they would soon disintegrate, finally vanish ing with the gurgling, effervescent litany of glacial ice going back to water. Such is the fate of these mammoth frag ments of glaciers-a fate few mourn. Certain ly masters of vessels plying the shipping lanes of the North Atlantic are not saddened by the loss. Nor are the men of the International Ice Patrol, who are charged with riding herd on the towering menaces to safety of life at sea. The story of the Ice Patrol dates back to 1912. In that year another iceberg passed the same way as those below us, and kept on going until, on a cold but calm night in April, it laid open the hull of the British passenger steamer Titanic. More than 1,500 persons perished (pages 792-3). Out of the tragedy there arose a widespread determination that it must not happen again. Representatives of seafaring nations met in London to draft plans for a permanent service to combat the dangers of ice. Thus in 1914 there came into being the International Ice Patrol. Except for the years of the two World Wars, the patrol has been active each ice sea son, and not a single life has been lost in its assigned area from a ship-iceberg collision. The United States and 16 other maritime nations share the cost of the patrol-an aver age of $500,000 a year. Because assessments are based on the tonnage moving through North Atlantic shipping lanes, the United Kingdom pays the largest share. But responsibility for carrying out the as signment rests with the U. S. Coast Guard alone. The service assigns two Lockheed Her cules aircraft and the oceanographic vessel Evergreen to the patrol each season. Spending much of the 1967 season with the patrol, I found that only at headquarters on Governors Island, in New York Harbor, is the work free of discomforts and hazards. There, in the shadow of Wall Street's skyscrapers, postings on ice conditions in the North Atlan tic are maintained around the clock. In the field the surroundings are bleak, the hours lonely. Still, the duty has a spellbinding quality, for icebergs, like the highest moun tains, evoke moods. Getting close to these short-lived behemoths touched me with their fascination. Here was the product of an awe some metamorphosis: taking water silently from the sea by evaporation; flinging it to earth as rain or snow; molding it into mighty glacial rivers; and finally feeding it back to the sea as mountains of ice. Violent weather-gales plowing the seas for days, even weeks at a time-looms as the greatest obstacle the patrol faces while track ing the movement of ice in the North Atlantic around the Grand Banks of Newfoundland. Through that area passes the world's heav iest transoceanic traffic. There, too, thick fog, created by the confluence of the cold Labra dor Current and the warm Gulf Stream, is present most of the time from early March to late June-the iceberg season (see the double map supplement, Atlantic Ocean, distributed to members with this issue). Grotesque Ice Sculpture Dots the Sea Aboard one of the patrol's Hercules HC 130B aircraft on a six-hour iceberg-marking and surveillance mission, we had flown out of the U. S. Naval Station at Argentia, New foundland. It was a rare, sunny day in April, with wind not strong enough to blow the fluff off a dandelion. Five members of the 12-man crew worked in the cockpit, while in the dark ened cavernous belly of the plane the others stood watches on radar and other instruments. It occurred to me that I made the total 13. As I watched the coastline of southern Newfoundland disappear, Crewman Jack E. Piehl approached to check me out on the proper use of a parachute. "Of course we fly so low you probably won't have a chance to use it anyway," he said with a distressingly weak smile. Along the Avalon Peninsula, icebergs were drifting close to shore. One had gone aground near Petty Harbour (following pages). I knew that it would probably die there after crack ing and crumbling with such roars of agony that it would seem at times as if the village were under siege by naval guns.