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Tuesday, February 27, 2024

You Can’t Take This Photo: The Colossal Underbelly of an Iceberg

Scientists say 90 percent of an iceberg lies underwater (thanks, Archimedes!), a fact for which most people happily take their word. Not Tobias Friedrich. He plunges into dangerously cold waters to see—and photograph—it for himself.

“I want to show people how beautiful it is down there,” Friedrich says.


Based in Wiesbaden, Germany, Friederich got hooked on ‘bergs while diving in the Tasiilaq Fjord of southeast Greenland in 2012. It was August, and they floated down the coast, glacial emissaries from the North Pole. Above the water, they looked jagged, all angles and planes; but below, they were round and pocked, like “giant golf balls,” he says.

One trip wasn’t enough. Nor two. So Friedrich returned a third time last March, when the fjord was frozen over, immobilizing hundreds of icebergs. Each day for two weeks, he and another diver rode snowmobiles across it hunting striking formations. They sawed three triangles into the 20-inch-thick ice near each iceberg’s base: one entrance and two exits in case someone needed air, fast.

The saltwater stung at 27 degrees Fahrenheit, about as cold as it gets without freezing. Friedrich layered up with wet and dry suits plus skin pants, but his face was exposed and his lips went numb in five minutes. He tried not to think about the cold, or about the ice sheet trapping him in from above, or about the disconcerting blackness stretching hundreds of feet below. “You can't make any mistakes down there,” he says.

Seventy feet down, Friedrich reaped his reward, enjoying stunning views of the icebergs in all their glory. He snapped hundreds of pics, including the one above, which earned him accolades in the 8th Annual Ocean Art Underwater Photo Contest. Captured with a DSLR encased in underwater housing, it depicts a fellow diver dwarfed by an icy white belly, bigger than a whale. The diver’s video lights illuminate its whirling contours from below, while daylight breaks through from above throwing it into awe-inspiring relief.

“You fly through the water and see this universe down there, which is so random, beautiful, and fascinating,” Friedrich says. Much of that wonder is captured in his photographs. The rest? You’ll just have to take his word for it.

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