When I’m in Lunenberg, Nova Scotia, I take small trips to other parts of the Maritimes on the Atlantic ocean. Prince Edward Island. New Brunswick. Newfoundland. When I was in St. John’s, Newfoundland, to give a paper at a conference on water, I looked for icebergs. Icebergs the size of a small island are known to drift past the harbour entrance. Most of them come from the glaciers of western Greenland and the rest from islands in Canada’s Arctic area. I didn’t spot any when I was there, but I imagined their massive structure from the pictures I’d seen. A tall iceberg would float there, revealing only its peak—the size of a house; the rest of its massive structure, the size of an apartment building, would lurk in the dark depths beneath. We’re told that close to 90 percent of an iceberg remains under the surface. And we all know the story of the Titanic, the ocean liner that had its side ripped open like a can opener by an iceberg, just off the Newfoundland coast.
In his book Water, Marq de Villiers tells the story of mining for iceberg water in Newfoundland. Icebergs the size of a house, called “bergy bits” by the locals, sometimes drift to shore and run aground for easy pickings. Villagers may scramble down ocean cliffs and over seaweed-covered rocks to chip away a pail full. They haul it over to the local inn and split it into cubes over a fine Scotch.
The water is literally ancient (8 to 10 thousand years old) and the cleanest water you’ll ever drink, says de Villiers. “Drink it by itself,” a friend of de Villiers advises, “or twelve-thousand-year-old water mixed with twelve-year-old Scotch.” De Villiers reported in 2000 that local companies tried marketing “iceberg water,” including towing icebergs to New York; but the business of harvesting floating ice to process vodka, beer and drinking water failed, victim of the pervasive cynicism of advertising: no one believed the claims were true. However, someday, it might not be out of the ordinary to sip iceberg beer or an iceberg martini in a hotel bar in St. John’s.
De Villiers describes iceberg water as slightly acidic (with a pH of about 5.4), and traces of potassium, sodium, magnesium, calcium, chloride, sulphate and bicarbonate. “It will fizz and crack when it melts or when you drop it into a drink,” de Villiers’ friend remarks with a sparkle in his eye. “Crystals under pressure.”
This article is an excerpt from Nina Munteanu’s Water Is… (Pixl Press)