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Tracking Icebergs as the World Warms

Shameless plug: If you enjoyed this graphic, you might also enjoy Endurance: Shackleton's Incredible Voyage, the fascinating story of Ernest Shackleton's attempt to reach the South Pole.

Click (tap on mobile) to stop the animation. Mousover icebergs for details. Landmasses and icebergs are not on the same scale.

Data Notes


This map visualizes the satellite-based iceberg tracking data available here. Some of the iceberg attributes including location have been interpolated. This is responsible for the small number of icebergs trekking across the continent that, alas, do not represent an untapped transportation resource. In cases where no size data is available for a given iceberg, its radius is taken to be the median iceberg size over all days and icebergs. Do not interpret the fact that the axes of all the icebergs align in this graphic to mean anything; there simply is no rotational orientation data. A small number of icebergs from the dataset that appear to have incorrect dates have been excluded. The letters a, b, c, d at the beginning of some of the icebergs' names correspond to origin quadrants.

Weaknesses of the Visualization

I think there are several weaknesses to this visualization.
  1. The visualization gives the impression that the number of Antarctic icebergs is increasing.

    An alternative explanation is that iceberg tracking technology has simply improved. There is some evidence for this, ex. Is The Number of Antarctic Icebergs Really Increasing? However, that paper is almost 20 years old and does not pertain to precisely the same data.

  2. There is some interpolation weirdness.

    Icebergs should not be crossing land. They also should not get bigger. The latter is the result of both interpolation and some data measurements.

  3. These are not all the icebergs in the Antarctic.

    Only relatively large icebergs are included in the data. It would be interesting to see what the smaller iceberg distribution looks like.

  4. The different spatial scales give the impression that icebergs occupy a large fraction of the Southern ocean.

    This is the price of actually making the icebergs visible, particularly on mobile.

  5. Icebergs aren't actually ellipse-shaped.

Data Sources


Clearly this graphic would not be possible without the efforts of those who compiled the Antarctic Iceberg Tracking Database, so I thank them. This visualization was created using R and D3. The following packages were particularly helpful: