A programme of systematic iceberg observations was initiated in 1981 by Norsk Polarinstitutt through the SCAR Working Group on Glaciology. Icebergs are recorded every 6 h and in five length groups: 10-50, 50-200, 200-500 and 500-1000 m, and those over 1000 m, which are described individually. Data on more than 100 000 icebergs are now on file at Norsk Polarinstitutt, and practically all ships travelling to and from Antarctica participate in the collection of data.
This paper presents the first comprehensive analysis of the iceberg data. The quality of the data set is discussed, with consideration of potential errors in and limitations of the data, and various statistical evaluations. Representative distribution data are presented, and used to determine iceberg production, disintegration and mean residence times, and regional and total Antarctic calving rates.
The incidence of large-scale calving in particular is evaluated, including the remarkably large break-offs in recent years. These exceed both the total annual accumulation on the Antarctic continent and the mean annual calving rate as determined from ship observations.
The results show further: (1) that there are more than 200 000 icebergs south of the Antarctic Convergence, (2) that there are large regional differences in iceberg calving rates and iceberg sizes, and (3) that the calving rate from Antarctica is higher than that given in most previous estimates, which implies (4) that the mass balance of the Antarctic ice sheet is not positive as suggested by most recent estimates.