Holes in Arctic ice? In the midst of NASA’s annual research flight over the Arctic region, a scientist has spotted something rather unusual that he had never seen before.

IceBridge mission scientist John Sonntag was flying over the eastern Beaufort Sea on April 14, when he noticed peculiar circle shapes about 80 kilometres northwest of Canada’s Mackenzie River Delta.

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

After capturing the moment from the window of the P-3 research plane, scientists then began speculating what it could be.

Sea ice geophysicist, Don Perovich suggested the ice that can be seen looks to be young ice growing within what was once a long, linear area of open water, or lead.

“The ice is likely thin, soft, and mushy and somewhat pliable,” Don said. “This can be seen in the wave-like features in front of the middle ‘amoeba.’”

Don also pointed out the image shows evidence of finger rafting, a phenomenon when two floes of thin ice collide above and below each other in a pattern that resembles a zipper or interlocking fingers.

However scientists are still stumped as to what could be causing the semi-circle shaped features surrounding the holes.

One theory reported to NASA suggests seals may have been the cause.

“The holes may have been gnawed out by seals to create an open area in the ice through which they can surface to breathe,” the report read.

Another scientist has chimed in with different possibility: convection – warm water from the river or inland mountains may be reaching the surface cooling off and sinking again, producing a continuous circulation of material and transfer of heat.

The annual IceBridge mission is done to monitor Earth’s climate and weather patterns, in which the diminishing sea ice that covers the Arctic Ocean plays a significant role.


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