After ten years and after many hours of flight over the Arctic, NASA’s Operation IceBridge – in charge of mapping the land and sea ice of the region – has discovered strange holes in the ice, with forms that until now They had never been observed.
John Sonntag, the scientist in charge of the mission, took several photographs from the window of an airplane while flying over the Beaufort Sea, about 50 kilometers northwest of the Mackenzie River in Canada, on April 14. “I do not remember having seen these types of forms before, we have only seen this kind of circular characteristics during this flight,” Sonntag describes in a statement.
— NASA Earth (@NASAEarth) April 21, 2018
Although the main objective of the flight was to make different observations of sea ice in this area, the captured image has unleashed doubts among scientists who have been working on the project. “Some aspects that we see are easy to explain. The sea ice is clearly young ice. It’s probably thin, soft, pasty and somewhat flexible, “says Don Perovich, a geophysicist at Dartmouth College.
According to Perovich, the formation of the right side of the image, called “finger rafting”, has been generated in the ice layer thanks to the movement of superposition, from left to right, when colliding two plates of thin ice.
“It’s an area of thin ice,” explains Nathan Kurtz, another of the scientists at Operation IceBridge, no doubt. “The color is gray enough to indicate that there is not just a layer of snow,” he continues. Also, he recognizes that “he is not sure what kind of dynamics could lead the ice to form the semicircle that surrounds the hole” because he has not seen anything like that before.
In fact, the holes are difficult to explain. Another idea that has jumped to the fore is that the origin is related to mammals. The holes may have been created by the Arctic seals themselves to have an open area in the ice to breathe. In addition, the holes are similar to the photographs that have been previously taken of the harp seal holes created to breathe.
“Circular shapes can be caused by waves of water seeping through snow and ice,” says Walt Meier, a scientist at the National Snow and Ice Data Center in the United States. “As they are quite shallow waters in general, there are many possibilities that they are simply ‘hot springs’ or seepage of groundwater that flows from the mountains inland and that is present in this particular area,” concludes Chris Shuman, from the University of Maryland (United States), in the same statement .