A rare phenomenon from the Antarctic called “dragon skin ice” has been discovered for the first time since 2007. A team of 27 scientists aboard icebreaker ship, Nathaniel B. Palmer, noted the ice formations on a recent expedition. They set out to study the shorelines of the ice-bound continent.
Seeing so much of this ice at once has the researchers surprised and somewhat worried about what may be going on with the greater ocean environment in the south polar regions.
Dragon Skin Ice, What is Driving the Cycle
The mission’s late-season goal was to study areas of open water along the Antarctic coast, called polynya, to better understand how sea ice is generated. Cold, driving winds called katabatic winds sweep in from the central continent. They blast across the surface of open water, freezing it into ice. That ice then blows out to sea, leaving behind open water for the katabatic winds to freeze even more areas.
As the water is drawn off, a more concentrated, salty brine is left behind. This then sinks into the water column, as it is denser. In its turn, this causes an upthrust of fresher water, and the cycle continues.
“Imagine your standard ice cube tray, filled once. After a week, you get one tray of ice cubes. But if you empty and refill the tray each night, you get so much more,” said Dr. Guy Williams, leader of the expedition.
Williams used this example to explain the effect of the katabatic winds on the polynya. These remove the ice, which exposes the water underneath it. In its turn, this generates even more ice. But the dragon skin ice is such a rare phenomenon in this regular cycle that it has the team worried.
Dr. Williams explained that it is a very rarely seen phenomenon. He also described dragon skin ice as a “bizarre evidence” of a “darker chaos in the cryospheric realm”.
The term cryosphere refers to the parts of planet Earth that are frozen. These are also reportedly very likely to be the first affected by global warming.
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