The topple of an iceberg: You're drawing it wrong

It turns out all those "tip of an iceberg"-drawings are giving the wrong idea.

Illustration of penguins on an iceberg. One on top of the iceberg, says to the other: "Shhh, don't mention the physics, we

Early this year, Megan Thompson-Munson wrote a tweet petitioning for scientists to start drawing icebergs the way they actually float. As it turns out, even the scientists have been getting it wrong all these years, which likely contributes to the appearance of all those strategic "tip of the iceberg"-diagrams.

Thompson-Munson, who is a glaciologist and climate scientist, explains:

The "classic" image of an iceberg is usually some kind of ice cream cone-shaped hunk of ice with 90% of it below the water's surface and 10% above (source: every iceberg stock photo on the internet).

While it's true that only ~10% floats above the surface of the water, the "classic" orientation is unstable and would actually not be found in nature. An elongated iceberg would not float on its head, but instead on its side.

Here are some typical iceberg images from an image search online, all showing exactly how icebergs do not float:

What Thompson-Munson proposes is this: "that scientific diagrams show stable orientations that are more likely to exist in nature". In a world already at the ready to twist and bend our perception of reality this seems a more than fair request.

Interactive visualisation to the rescue

This being the age of the Internet, Thompon-Munson's call for change was heard by Joshua Tauberer, a software developer and civic technologist. He quickly coded an iceberg simulation, allowing you to draw an iceberg to see how it would actually float.

Here is me drawing one of those classic orientations. Watch what happens as the iceberg topples.

Obviously there are limitations to this simulation, as it isn't in 3D. Tauberer writes: "three-dimensional distribution of mass and its relative density compared to the water are both significant factors that are only approximated here." But then again, the iceberg you draw will likely also be 2-dimensional.

"Will it tip"? - an iceberg solitaire game

Now prepare yourself for hours of fun. Because obviously you can draw your iceberg any which way you want. And sometimes how an iceberg floats can be really hard to predict. So head on over to Iceberger and go crazy with your drawings.

Below you can have a look at some of my attempts. And I can confirm: the heart-shaped iceberg stays upright. Just refresh the web page to start a new iceberg drawing. While these were drawn on a laptop computer you may find it easier to draw on a tablet or mobile, which works great.

Images from iceberg simulator, attempts at a heart, a bolt of lightning, a spaceship and a dog.

Want to join in on the #TipTheIceberg activism? Megan Thompson-Munson obviously has you covered. Get your stickers here on Etsy.


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