How to Watch Bergs


Photo © Stephen E. Bruneau

So you want to see an icebreg? Where do you go? When are icebergs around anyway? We've compiled some helpful information for your next iceberg vacation.

 

When is the best time to see icebergs?

Icebergs are best viewed in the spring and early summer along the shores of Newfoundland and later in the summer on the coast of Labrador. Every year the number of icebergs seen from shore varies so that it may be necessary to travel to guarantee success. Usually the last bergs melt away near St. Anthony in the first week of August, a few weeks earlier around Twillingate and St. John's. April and May are the months when bergs are most plentiful, however, in the spring many can be locked up in sea ice, rendering them inaccessible by boat and much less appealing to look at from the comfort standpoint. It is recommended that late May and early June be the target date for visitors specifically interested in icebergs - but as the months approach check with the Canadian Ice Services or local tourist operators for updated forecasts.

The illustration to the right shows the probability of viewing an iceberg along the coast of Newfoundland and Labrador from March to October. From these charts you can see the places and months for the best iceberg viewing opportunities. The coastline is divided into sections representing Very Low (less than 1%), Low (between 1% and 25%), Moderate (between 25% and 50%) and High (above 50%) probability. The chances of seeing an iceberg in the months not shown here are extremely low. Although these charts represent average historical data, the population of icebergs can vary dramatically from year to year. A light iceberg season one year could very well be followed by a heavily populated iceberg season the next!

These monthly charts are based on Canadian Ice Service iceberg charts (from 1988 to 2005) and a wealth of knowledge and expertise of iceberg populations along the coastline. The iceberg probability illustrated in the chart is affected by a number of factors: the number of icebergs passing through an area, the likelihood of the icebergs being reported (i.e. from ship and lighthouse sightings, sightings from aircraft), as well as the length of time that icebergs persist in a particular area. These charts are subject to revision as additional data becomes available regarding the number of shore-based iceberg sightings.

For tourists also keen on viewing whales and seabirds it should be noted that they migrate north in the late spring and early summer - and can often be plentiful through to early fall. The opposing southerly iceberg migration allows for brief intervals where all three may happily coexist. This spectacle is not entirely uncommon but should not necessarily be expected by site seers even when traveling at the optimal time of year. Many factors affecting timing, location, populations etc naturally vary from year to year and render impossible the ability to accurately forecast.

graph

Where should I go?

On average, icebergs are more plentiful as one travels further north up the East Coast of Newfoundland and Labrador. Some of the more popular places from which to view icebergs from shore, or from tour boats are (from South to North): Bay Bulls/Witless Bay, St. John's/Cape Spear, Bonavista, Twillingate, La Scie, St. Anthony, Point Amour, Battle Harbour and Cartwright. All of these locations are accessible by road, the last three of which are on the coast of Southern Labrador - accessed by car ferry from the Island of Newfoundland starting in early summer. Check with local tour operators and hotels/motels/inns for iceberg conditions and tour information.

How far can I see from shore? 

Viewing an iceberg from shore is affected by many variables. These include the elevation of viewpoint, height of the object, clarity of atmosphere (daily visibility), and air/water temperature conditions.  A general rule of thumb can be applied to help gauge how well you can see an iceberg from the shore.  This rule of thumb (outlined in the following table) applies to iceberg viewing from sea level (like a beach or cove) in ideal weather conditions (no fog or precipitation).  If you are iceberg watching from high above sea level (such as at Signal Hill) expect this rule of thumb to improve!

Distance of Iceberg Viewing Experience
Less than 5km Highly likely you will enjoy a wonderful view of this iceberg.  If the iceberg can be viewed from a hill top you are in for a real treat!
Between 5km and 10km A good view from a distance.  If you have a camera with a good zoom lens you could get a nice photo.  If you have a set of binoculars you will also have a nice view!
Between 10km and 15km Be sure to bring those binoculars or a good camera lens…. or even that telescope that has been hiding in the closet!  If you are determined to see a berg, it is still worth a try!
Greater than 15km Don’t have a telescope?  Maybe you should see if there are any local boat tours in the area.

 

Calculate how far you can see...

Want to find out how far you can see an iceberg if you are at a specific elevation? Use the little tool below.

horizon

Enter the elevation (in meters):
 
The maximum distance (in kilometers) you can see is...

Try these popular spots...

Sites in Newfoundland and Labrador Elevation from Sea Level
Signal Hill 250m
Cape Race Light House 30m
Cape Spear 75m
Twillingate Lighthouse 100m
Point Amour Lighthouse 33m

 

What should I take?

Four season clothing including: wind and rain jacket/pants, gloves, hat, shorts and t-shirt. Also take sunblock, sunglasses, binoculars, camera, and lots of film. 

Who should I contact for tourism information?

For most general inquiries about accommodations, tours, festivals and events, attractions, etc. contact Newfoundland and Labrador Tourism www.NewfoundlandLabrador.com

All content courtesy of Dr. Stephen E. Bruneau.

 

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