NASA Scientists Discover a Mystery in the Arctic Ice

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During a project called IceBridge, mission scientist John Sonntag with NASA photographed on 14 April some unusual shapes in the ice, right over the Beaufort Sea, which is 50 miles northwest of the Mackenzie River Delta.

John Sonntag wrote on the discovery: “We saw these sorta-circular features only for a few minutes today. I don’t recall seeing this sort of thing elsewhere.”

NASA’s response was that some of the features in the photos are easy to recognize. They claim that the ice in that place was thin and the phenomenon was called “finger rafting”, a feature that forms when floes collide. But the agency couldn’t explain the holes in the photograph and what could have caused them.

Theories Surface – Seals, Warm Water, Or Currents

A scientist at the National Snow and Ice Data Center, Walt Meier, stated in a news release:

“The encircling features may be due to waves of water washing out over the snow and ice when the seals surface. Or it could be a sort of drainage feature that results from when the hole is made in the ice.”

NASA soon got contacted by other experts, agreeing that the holes could have been made by seals, or that warm water could have come from the inland mountains and cause the holes.

Chris Polashenski is a sea ice scientist at the Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory has said that he has seen this before, but he didn’t have an explanation for it either. However, he agrees with the previous two theories.

Chris Shuman, a glaciologist from the University of Maryland at Baltimore County, also based at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center believes that there are “just ‘warm springs’ or seeps of ground water flowing from the mountains inland that make their presence known in this particular area”.

He also suggests that there could be warm currents of water from Beaufort or from the Mackenzie River that fount their “way to the surface due to interacting with the bathymetry, just the way some polynyas form.”

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Andre Blair s is the lead editor for Advocator.ca. He holds a B.A. in Psychology from the University of Toronto, and a Master of Science in Public Health (M.S.P.H.) from the School of Public Health, Department of Health Administration, at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Andre specializes in environmental health, but writes on a variety of issues.


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