Publication Details

Leane, E. & Maddison, B. (2018). A Biography of Iceberg B09B. Australian Humanities Review, 63 99-115.

Link to publisher version (URL)

Australian National University


Icebergs have taken on dramatic new meanings in the Anthropocene. They have long been used as metaphors for an immensity present but unseen, but in the age of anthropogenic warming they also metonymically suggest unstable icesheets, shrinking glaciers and rising seas. Outside of scientific discourse, however, icebergs tend to be considered as a collective, interesting both in their symbolism and materiality, but rarely treated as individual objects with their own histories and futures. In this article, we canvas some of the ways in which humanities researchers have recently been thinking about ice, and in response offer a brief biography of the iceberg B09B, focusing particularly on its intersection with the human history of Antarctica. B09B's lifetime, which thus far has spanned almost thirty years, has seen significant changes in the Antarctic region: the advent of large-scale tourism; a new focus on heritage, including the historic huts of the region from the 'heroic era' of exploration; the implementation of an international protocol with stringent protections of the environment; and the impact of climate change, manifest particularly in ice shelf instability and glacial retreat in West Antarctica. B09B was by no means a passive bystander in these events. Always entwined with human history, in late 2011 B09B lodged itself in Commonwealth Bay, the location of Mawson's Huts Historic Site, hampering centenary celebrations of the Australasian Antarctic Expedition (1911-14), putting a stop to tourist visits for over half a decade, playing havoc with the local ecosystem, ocean circulation, and ice production, and contributing to the besetting of a private research expedition-an event that in turn generated a media controversy. The iceberg became embroiled in a complex story of heritage, tourism, citizen science, Australian nationalism and climate change. The still-unfolding history of B09B is a reminder that Antarctica's history, far from that of a pure wilderness, is one of interwoven natural and cultural objects, actions and events.