In a routine flyover in the Arctic ocean earlier this month, a NASA scientist photographed images of mysterious ice holes over the eastern Beaufort Sea. The holes appear to be the first of their kind ever captured on film, and researchers are struggling to understand what they are and how they got there.
NASA’s Operation IceBridge mission scientist John Sonntag captured the images on April 14, marking in his field log, “I don’t recall seeing this sort of thing elsewhere,” NASA reported. The holes were noted about 50 miles northwest of Canada’s Mackenzie River Delta, and although the main purpose of the trip was to make observations of sea ice, somehow the mysterious holes became the highlight of the trip.
Fellow IceBridge project scientist Nathan Kurtz explained that while he can tell from the image that the holes exist in the area of thin ice, he’s still not sure what created them.“I’m not sure what kind of dynamics could lead to the semi-circle shaped features surrounding the holes. I have never seen anything like that before,” said Kurtz, NASA reported.
Walt Meier, a scientist at the National Snow and Ice Data Center suggested that the circles may be a result of water washing over the snow and ice as seals surface for air. “Or it could be a sort of drainage feature that results from when the hole is made in the ice,” Meier told NASA.
Chris Shuman, a the University of Maryland at Baltimore County glaciologist based at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center instead suggested the holes may be the result of warm water melting through the arctic ocean, either from warm springs, groundwater flowing from the inland mountains or from certain currents making its way to the ocean’s surface.
At the moment, with only a photograph, what caused the holes will remain a mystery. At least until more information about the holes can be gathered.