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When photographer Alex Cornell shared an image of an iceberg in Antarctica that had flipped over, exposing its smooth, translucent underside, the world was captivated. Compared to the usual (arguably equally awe-inspiring) images that we see of icebergs, the enormous ice structure in this image looked as if it were made entirely of pure deep blue glass. While many heralded this photo for its beauty, what caused this incredible, ancient formation to turn over was largely overlooked.

Icebergs are formed when sections of freshwater ice break off from larger ice shelves or glaciers. Although these structures are massive, they float because salt water has a higher density. Only around 10 percent of the iceberg can be seen above water, hence the popular phrase, “Just the tip of the iceberg.” So, if there is around 90 percent of the entire iceberg’s structure submerged underwater, the likelihood that they will flip over is extremely rare.

However, if a bulk of the iceberg’s structure were to melt, then it could capsize, revealing its smooth underbelly. While the photos that Cornell and others have captured of these flipped icebergs are stunning, it seems that there is another, more tragic side to this story.

The stunning blue tint of this ice indicates that it is extremely old. As ice ages, it becomes dense and can absorb red light waves, which refract as blue. The lighter lines are centuries-old sediments that were trapped in the original ice sheet.


While these images are magnificent, scientists are finding flipping icebergs have become more common as the effects of climate change advance.


As we release more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, the global temperature begins to rise. It is estimated that the world’s oceans are absorbing up to 90 percent of this excess heat. 


In the past 37 years, we have seen global temperatures exceed the averages for the past 100 years. The rapid warming of the oceans is causing ancient sea ice to melt. Since the Industrial Revolution, the median sea-level has risen eight inches because of melting.


Although many reports show that sea ice is expanding, this really just means that smaller pieces of ice (like these icebergs) are breaking off from old, dense ice sheets. These smaller chunks melt rapidly in warmer waters, as these tipped bergs illustrate.


Icebergs can be anywhere from tens to hundreds of thousands of years old. It is heartbreaking to see these ancient structures melting exponentially because of human industry. 

Screen Shot 2015-02-17 at 1.31.11 PMAlex Cornell/Instagram

Together, Greenland and the Antarctic ice sheet hold 90 percent of the world’s freshwater supply. These massive ice caps help to regulate the world’s climate and as they continue to melt, we can see more extreme weather and temperature fluctuations.

Screen Shot 2015-02-17 at 1.31.02 PMAlex Cornell/Instagram

What We Can Do

While there is no denying these photos are beautiful, they are also tragic. We all have the responsibility to conserve the world’s ice sheets to the best of our ability. We can all help to do this by shrinking our individual carbon footprints. There are many simple ways you cut your own carbon footprint, such as limiting the amount you drive or cutting your electricity use, but did you know you can half your footprint just by leaving meat off your plate? For more simple ideas like this to help protect the world’s ice sheets, click here.

Lead image source: Alex Cornell

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195 comments on “The Rather Shocking Message Behind Stunning Photos of Flipped Icebergs”

Click to add comment
Chris L. Taylor
2 Years Ago

You mean ice melts when it is in the water? Hasn't every ice berg over all the history of the world melted? I think maybe someone is looking for justification that isn't there.

Tim Moore
2 Years Ago

Brianna Wianecki

Michaela Krasteva
2 Years Ago

Well it's expected.We destroy everything,we will meet our end someday too

Talin Agon
2 Years Ago

Alex Kashian

Kathryn Hamilton
2 Years Ago


Jessica Kelly
2 Years Ago

So sad

Erin Christine
2 Years Ago


Rosine Laville
2 Years Ago


Daniel Ferra
2 Years Ago

Why Does a Country Poison its Water ? To Extract a Fuel that will Enable its Military March To Global Markets ! Why Does a Country Poisons It Food With Gut Busting Cancer Causing GMOs, To Harvest Humans ? Why Does A Country Raise its Radiation Levels for its People ? Fukushima ! Why Does a Country Boil Water With Nuclear Elements ? To Provide Fuel For its Military Global Market March ! We Have To Change The Federal Direction of The United States of America ! Our Fossil Fuel and Nuclear Corporations are The Richest in The World ! And They Are Destroying our Life Sustaining, Fragile Eco-Systems ! It Is Time To Change This Insanity ! Are We Getting Ready To Nuke the World ? "Ice sheets contain enormous quantities of frozen water. If the Greenland Ice Sheet melted, scientists estimate that sea level would rise about 6 meters (20 feet). If the Antarctic Ice Sheet melted, sea level would rise by about 60 meters (200 feet)." National Snow and Ice Data Center. There Are Over 400 Nuclear Reactors and All Their Fuel Rods ! At Sea Level Now ! Relocate All Nuclear Fuel Rods and Contaminated Metals above 3,000 Ft! There Is No Carbon, Methane, or Nuclear Budget ! "There is no carbon budget anymore and 5C is baked in according to both Shell petroleum and the International Energy Authority. " Kevin Hester There is No Carbon, Methane, or Nuclear Budget ! There are Methane Deposits that Are Now Being Emitted off the Arctic Siberian Coast, Greenland, and The Antarctic, As The Permafrosts Melt and the Oceans Warm, Methane deposits blowing out of the Crust and Ocean Floors ! Methane is a Bridge to Hell, Ban Fracking Gov. Brown ! and President Obama ! Globally we emit over 40 Billion Tons of Carbon Dioxide Annually ! California Emitted 459 Million Toxic Tons of Carbon Dioxide in 2014. Gov Browns call to reduce this to 1990 levels so we can continue to emit over 400 million Toxic Tons a year, will not help us stop or slow down Global Warming and Sea Levels Rising. 2020 Limit - AB 32 is now slightly higher than the 427 MMTCO2e in the initial Scoping Plan." Ca. Gov. Data Ban Fracking ! Close 100 of the 108 Bottle Watering Facilities in California ! Golf on Gray Water or Close Golf Course Grow For Local and Regional Farming Circle, Federal and State Policies Must Change ! Atmospheric Parts Per Million of Carbon is Now 404 In the 1850 Carbon PPM was 260 - 280 What will the Temp. be at 415 ppm ? Arctic 80% melted, Greenland is Keeping North America Cool, For How Long ? Antarctica is Melting as Well, When Will It Melt ? and All the Glaciers used to keep the Mantle Cooler ! We must transition to 100% Renewable Energy Implement a California Residential and Commercial Feed in Tariff. California Residential Feed in Tariff would allow homeowners to sell their Renewable Energy to the utility, protecting our communities from, Global Warming, Poison Water, Grid Failures, Natural Disasters, Toxic Natural Gas and Oil Fracking. A California Commercial FiT in Los Angeles, Palo Alto, an Sacramento Ca. are operating NOW, paying the Business Person 17 cents cents per kilowatt hour. Sign and Share this petition for a California Residential Feed in Tariff.http://signon.org/sign/let-california-home-owners

Paula Dambrink-van Aalst
2 Years Ago

Als er een stuk gaat ,krijg je toch een waterverplaatsing ,dood eng !


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