Every time it seems like we’ve seen everything Earth has to offer, it surfaces another natural surprise.
Over the weekend, NASA revealed that Operation IceBridge’s annual flight over the Arctic to photograph and survey land and sea ice found an entirely new element in an area that lacked coverage by Operation IceBridge before 2013. Cameras spotted openings that looked like circles in the ice.
“We saw these sorta-circular features only for a few minutes today,” IceBridge mission scientist John Sonntag wrote of the findings on April 14, according to NASA. “I don’t recall seeing this sort of thing elsewhere.”
NASA says that what we’re viewing is in an area of new, thin ice based on the wavy lines you can see in the photograph taken by Sonntag. Some characteristics of the ice have a basis in what NASA already knows about how ice behaves.
But some of what’s shown—particularly the presence of holes in the ice—has no clear explanation, at least not yet. While one glaciologist who works at NASA said that the holes in the ice could be seal-made breathing holes or “caused by convection,” scientists are still puzzled.
“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,” IceBridge project scientist Nathan Kurtz explained. “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.”