NASA scientists mystified by newly discovered ice holes in the Arctic

NASA's Earth Observatory

WASHINGTON (Circa) - NASA's Earth Observatory has uncovered a new phenomenon occurring in the Beaufort Sea ice in the Arctic – huge holes.

Every year NASA flies a mission over the polar regions called "Operation IceBridge." Their flight's purpose this year was to gather information of areas consisting of sea ice not previously covered by missions before 2013.

In a press release on the finding, IceBridge mission scientist John Sonntag said he does not "recall seeing this sort of thing elsewhere.”

They know the ice near the holes is young and relatively new due to the wave-like features beside them. Scientists believe the ice in that area is thin, but they are still uncertain as to what might be causing the semi-circle like features around the holes.

One theory proposes seals could have made the holes in the ice to get air. Their shape NASA explains is similar to other breathing holes created by the mammals.

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

Another thought is that the holes could be the result of convection.

"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," Chris Shuman, a University of Maryland at Baltimore County glaciologist based at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center stated. "“The other possibility is that warmer water from Beaufort currents or out of the Mackenzie River is finding its way to the surface."

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