The International Ice Patrol is a division of the U.S. Coast Guard tasked with the purpose of monitoring icebergs in the NW Atlantic and Arctic Oceans and reporting their movements for the safety of the maritime community.
The organization was established in 1914 in response to the sinking of RMS Titanic.
They patrol a vast area of 500,000 square miles.
Icebergs mostly come from glaciers in Greenland and drift over. The ice season runs from February 1st through July 31, during which the USCG International Ice Patrol actively patrols Iceberg Alley (the area of the Grand Banks of Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada).
This area is the only location in the world where there’s an intersection of shipping lanes with icebergs.
Greenland’s Labrador Current takes icebergs north first and then to the south, where they cross the Great Circle route. In addition, the cold Labrador Current intersects with the warm Gulf Stream current, which creates fog in the summer and storms in the winter. With those two pressure systems we’ll see 30- to 60-foot waves. It’s very dangerous. There’s sea ice as well, depending on the season. The sea ice often freezes around the iceberg, and when it’s encapsulated in sea ice, it’s not exposed to the warming elements and it’s able to drift much farther south.
Today the International Ice Patrol is located at the NOAA Satellite Operations Facility (NSOF) in Suitland, Maryland.
The ice reconnaissance detachment, usually composed of 11 aircrew and 4 ice observers flying in an HC-130 aircraft, continues to work out of Newfoundland.
The Ice Patrol disseminates information on icebergs and the limit of all known sea ice via radio broadcast from the U.S. Coast Guard Communications Command (COMMCOM) located in Chesapeake, Virginia via Inmarsat Safetynet, and radio facsimile chart.
Most of the icebergs that enter the North Atlantic shipping lanes come from the tidewater glaciers of the west coast of Greenland. Once an iceberg is calved from one of these glaciers it completes a 1-3 year journey to arrive in the area that the International Ice Patrol (IIP) monitors.
IIP’s data records, which extend to 1900, show that nearly 500 icebergs enter the shipping lanes in an average year. [The 1900-2010 average is 479.] However, the year-to-year variation is wide. In 1984, the busiest iceberg year in IIP’s history, 2202 icebergs entered the shipping lanes. On the other hand, during two years (1966 and 2006) no icebergs reached the shipping lanes.
Currently, the Commander of the International Ice Patrol is Marcus Hirschberg.