NASA spots mysterious holes in Arctic Ocean ice cover

Posted April 25, 2018

But on April 14, 2018, IceBridge mission scientist John Sonntag spotted something he had never seen before.

The holes are in an area of young sea ice about 50 miles northwest of Canada's Mackenzie River Delta.

It's possible, NASA wrote, that some large mammal took advantage of that thin ice to poke holes through it to breathe.Ring sealsand harp seals are both known to poke holes through the ice that look somewhat similar to this (though neither of NASA's example photos includes the formations around the ice holes).

NASA Operation IceBridge mission scientist John Sonntag captured the baffling image from a P-3 research plane soaring over the eastern Beaufort Sea.

The missions have a name straight out of a James Bond novel: Operation IceBridge. To the left of them, you can see what NASA terms "wave-like features", and to the right, tracing a vertical line through the image, "finger rafting".

"It's definitely an area of thin ice, as you can see finger rafting near the holes and the color is gray enough to indicate little snow cover", said IceBridge project scientist Nathan Kurtz.

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

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As for the holes and surrounds?

But luckily, this puzzling picture of holes in a sheet of Arctic ice appears to be more of an interesting brain teaser than the discovery of, say, giant ice worms.

"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 U.S. National Snow and Ice Data Center, told NASA.

But then again, maybe not.

Chris Polashenski, a sea ice scientist at the Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory, said he has seen features like this before, but does not have a solid explanation for them.

A research plane flying over the Beaufort Sea took photos of the odd holes in the ice which experts, and non-experts, have guessed were caused by seals, waves, aliens or submarines. According to Glaciologist Chris Schuman, who works with NASA at the Goddard Space Flight Center, thinks that the warm water circulating through the Arctic Ocean might have formed those unusual circles. It has also been suggested it could be due to the way the water washes over the snow and ice as seals come up for air.

Other suggestions include warm springs made from groundwater flowing from the mountains, or the warmer currents of the Beaufort Sea or the nearby Mackenzie River reaching the surface.