As filmmaker Alex Cornell explored a glacial cove in Antarctica recently, a tipped iceberg made an appearance, rising nearly 30 feet out of the water. Free of snow, the glacier's shimmering surface gave it the appearance of a massive jewel in the ocean.
“Everything is reflective and everything’s white,” said Cornell. “People had said that the first time you go, you’re kind of so overwhelmed that you take a lot of pictures of your feet and you don’t really know what’s going on … I definitely felt that.” According to Smithsonian magazine, the ice, in this case, is likely very old. “In glaciers, years of compression force out air pockets and gradually make the ice denser,” according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center. “When glacier ice becomes extremely dense, the ice absorbs a small amount of red light, leaving a bluish tint in the reflected light, which is what we see.” Minerals and organic matter may also have seeped into the iceberg, creating the blue-green like color.
The capsizing of glaciers is happening more than ever before, due to climate change. Outlet glaciers are rivers of ice, according to Justin Burton, an assistant professor at Emory University who studied the physics of flipping glaciers. An outlet glacier is a “river of ice” that flows out from an ice cap or ice sheet into the sea. Climate change is now causing these outlet glaciers to retreat, which contributes to the icebergs tipping over.
Cornell is grateful just to have seen it. “It’s like if you see a double rainbow over a whale breaching … you’re just lucky that you’re there,” he told Smithsonian magazine. “Anybody could have been there and captured it, so I am happy that I was the one for this one.”
Photos by Alex Cornell