Home Science Environment 'Dragon-Skin' Ice Found In Antarctica

‘Dragon-Skin’ Ice Found In Antarctica

When you hear the term “dragon-skin,” ice no-one would blame you if you instantly thought of the Game of Thrones series; however, this is a real phenomenon. Recently, a team of Antarctic scientists observed the bizarre and rare scaly ice in the Ross Sea, known as “dragon-skin.”

It’s autumn in Antarctica, and while most South Pole expeditions have departed, the U.S. icebreaker research vessel Nathaniel B. Palmer continued to plow toward the heart of an Antarctic polynya.

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U.S. icebreaker research vessel Nathaniel B. Palmer. (Image: University of Tasmania, Australia)

Polynyas are areas of open water against Antarctica that are “ice factories,” with 10 times the average amount of sea ice produced due to the strength of local “katabatic” winds that flow from the interior of Antarctica.

Twenty-seven scientists from eight countries who are studying the winter behavior of coastal polynyas were given the chance to see the “dragon-skin” ice, which proved to be an early highlight. IMAS researcher Dr. Guy Williams said in a statement:

Dr. Williams said enhanced sea ice growth has a vitally important effect on the local and global oceanography. Seawater essentially freezes as freshwater ice, with the salty brine being rejected during the formation of the ice.

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Even though dragon-skin ice may be the natural result of physics, it certainly reminds us that even the most distant corners of our planet can be filled with otherworldly beauty. (Image: University of Tasmania, Australia)

This makes the underlying water very cold and dense, enough to ultimately sink to the abyssal layer of the major ocean basins. This then kick-starts the southern limb of the global overturning circulation.

Although dragon-skin ice is a rare sight, it may simply be because people are not in Antarctica during the winter often enough to see it.

Even though dragon-skin ice may be the natural result of physics, it certainly reminds us that even the most distant corners of our planet can be filled with otherworldly beauty.

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Troy Oakes
Troy was born and raised in Australia and has always wanted to know why and how things work, which led him to his love for science. He is a professional photographer and enjoys taking pictures of Australia's beautiful landscapes. He is also a professional storm chaser where he currently lives in Hervey Bay, Australia.

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