Ice Island Drift Mechanisms in the Canadian High Arctic

  • Wesley Van Wychen
  • Luke Copland
Part of the Springer Polar Sciences book series (SPPS)


Ice islands are large tabular icebergs produced from the calving of Arctic ice shelves. The loss of ~8000 km2 of ice shelves from the northern coast of Ellesmere Island over the past century has resulted in the production of numerous ice islands, with the first detected in the 1940s. Once calved, these ice islands take one of three routes: (1) they drift west and remain in the Arctic Ocean, where they can circulate for up to several decades; (2) they drift west and enter the interior islands of the Canadian Arctic Archipelago, where they disintegrate relatively rapidly; (3) in rare cases they drift east after calving and enter Nares Strait and then drift south along the east coast of Canada, reaching as far south as Labrador. Historically, the drift paths and disintegration patterns of ice islands were of military interest as they provided mobile platforms for the measurement of oceanographic and atmospheric properties, and they could potentially act as staging posts for Soviet or US access to the opposite side of the Arctic Ocean. Today, interest in ice islands primarily arises from the risks that can pose to shipping and offshore oil exploration, and their indication of the effects of climate change.


Ice island Calving Iceberg Ice shelf Ellesmere Island Sea ice 



We would like to thank the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, Canada Foundation for Innovation, Ontario Research Fund and the University of Ottawa for funding assistance. We would also like to thank the Canadian Ice Service, BBC News, Derek Mueller, Andrew Hamilton, Trudy Wohlleben, Bea Alt, Laurie Weir, Luc Desjardins, John Falkingham, Roger DeAbreu and Doug Bancroft for assistance with data collection and analysis. NCEP Reanalysis data provided by NOAA/OAR/ESRL PSD, Boulder, CO. Helpful reviews from Bea Alt and an anonymous reviewer are appreciated.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Geography, Environment and GeomaticsUniversity of OttawaOttawaCanada

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