Home Arctic Mystery holes in Arctic ice baffle NASA | MNN

Mystery holes in Arctic ice baffle NASA | MNN


NASA wants your insight on circling the cause behind some mysterious ice holes in the Arctic.

An April 14 flyover of the frozen Beaufort Sea by a P-3 research plane, part of NASA’s annual survey of the poles called Operation IceBridge, revealed three intriguing punctures in the sea ice.

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

A closeup of the three holes that NASA is seeking an explanation for.
A close-up of the three holes that NASA found in the frozen Beaufort Sea. (Photo: NASA)

The holes are in an area of young sea ice about 50 miles northwest of Canada’s Mackenzie River Delta. The current leading theory is that they were gnawed out by seals in need of breathing holes during journeys under the frozen surface.

One species, the ringed seal, has sharp claws on its front flippers measuring more than an inch thick. They’ve been known to carve breathing holes out of sea ice as deep as 7 feet.

“The encircling features may be due to waves of water washing out over the snow and ice when the seals surface,” Walt Meier, a scientist at the National Snow and Ice Data Center, told NASA “Or it could be a sort of drainage feature that results from when the hole is made in the ice.”

A breathing hole in sea ice created by ring seals.
A breathing hole in sea ice created by ringed seals. (Photo: Peter Prokosch)

The other possibility, and one I’ve seen on quite a few ponds this winter where I live in northeast New York, is that the ice punctures are due to convection from warm water sources.

“This is in pretty shallow water generally, so there is every chance this is just ‘warm springs’ or seeps of ground water flowing from the mountains inland that make their presence known in this particular area,” said Chris Shuman, a University of Maryland at Baltimore County glaciologist based at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.

Got a theory on what might have caused the ice holes? Jump over to NASA’s site and drop a note in the comments.

Mystery holes in Arctic ice baffle NASA

A recent airborne NASA mission captured some puzzling holes breaking through the sea ice.


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