The sound of the ship churning through sea ice is what I imagine it might sound like if you lived inside a Slurpee machine — an endless “slusha-slusha-slush” with the occasional grating noise. When we hit an especially big chunk, the whole ship shudders. We’ll be too far north for dense ice by the time I wake up tomorrow, so I wanted to say goodbye to the pack. It’s back into berg territory from now on.
I feel like I should give you an ice glossary.
Ice comes from land (via snow that packs down over the years) or the sea (when the surface water freezes every winter). Here’s how ice evolves, and the hip vocab terms that go with it:
LAND ICE FORMING
1. Snow: You’ve seen it. It falls from the sky.
2. Firn: Old snow that packs down and solidifies until it looks like a sponge made of ice.
3. Ice sheet: A huge mass of packed ice and snow. It’s an “ice cap” when it’s larger than 50,000 square kilometers.
5. Glacier or ice shelf: Glaciers are masses of moving snow and ice that slide from high to low ground. Ice shelves are floating ice sheets that are attached to the coast.
LAND ICE BREAKING UP
1. Ice bergs or tabular bergs: Big chunks that break off. Tabular bergs are flat on top, since they come from broken up ice shelves, rather than calving violently off a glacier.
2. Bergy bits: I swear that’s the technical term. These are chunks of ice less than 15ft tall and 30 ft wide.
3. Growlers: Little baby bergs, smaller than bergy bits.
4. Brash: The remaining fragments that eventually melt into seawater.
SEA ICE FORMING
1. Frazil ice: Fine spicules or plates of ice suspended in the water. 2. Grease Ice: Coagulated frazil.
3. Slush: Big piles of floating snow.
4. Nilas: A thin, elastic crust of ice that bends with the waves. 5. Shuga: Spongy white lumps formed from slush or grease ice. 6. Ice Rind: A brittle crust.
7. Pancake ice: Big circular chunks up to 10ft across.
8. Pack ice: Any big, flat, interconnected chunks of floating ice. 9. Ice cake: A floe less than 30ft across.
10. Floe: Enormous fields of floating ice.
SEA ICE BREAKING UP
1. Ice cakes or pancakes.
Now you’re fluent in Ice!
For the last few days we’ve been in dense pack ice, all rolling with the waves like a vast, undulating puzzle. It’s completely hypnotic. To get some idea of scale in the picture, the horizon is about 10 miles away, and you could easily park a few cars on some of those big white cakes.