News & Opinion | March 17, 2019 5:00 am

The Science Behind Antarctica’s Emerald Green Icebergs

Figuring this out took a lot of time, and a little luck.

(Getty Images)
Getty Images/iStockphoto

You probably think of a white-blue object when you think of icebergs floating on the ocean. But in Antarctica, you can find startling, and stunning, green icebergs.

And though people have been writing about these emerald blocks for over a century, no one was certain where they were coming from. They knew it had to do with the icebergs’ physical and chemical properties, but had yet to pinpoint it. Now, a research team finally thinks they have the answer.

According to the scientists, the emerald color comes from a combination of two processes. The first is that bubble-free icebergs need to form at the bases of ice shelves jutting out in the Southern Ocean. Simultaneously, National Geographic explains, ground-up yellow-red glacial dust from the continent’s bedrock has to be brought along for the ride.

“It’s pretty much Antarctica’s version of mixing blue and yellow paint together to get green,” said James Lea, a glaciologist at the University of Liverpool who was not involved with the work, to Nat Geo.