There’s always the “It was Aliens” explanation, right?
NASA’s Earth Observatory has detected a set of mysterious ice holes north of Canada, in the eastern Beaufort Sea, and the mysterious formations have caused experts to scratch their heads, as they struggle to explain how the holes were formed.
On April 14, NASA scientist John Sonntag photographed the ice holes around 50 miles northwest of the Mackenzie River Delta in Canada, during NASA’s annual Operation IceBridge mission.
This mission was set up in order to map changes in sea ice at our planet’s North and South poles.
“We saw these sorta-circular features only for a few minutes today,” Sonntag reported, according to a NASA press release this month.
“I don’t recall seeing this sort of thing elsewhere,” he added.
While we know that the holes are there, there isn’t really much we know about them. We don’t know their exact size, we don’t know how they got there, and we don’t know if they will disappear, nor do we know if that’s something normal, or whether we are looking at an anomaly.
Another scientist, Nathan Kurtz said he did not know what could have led to the formation of these types of holes. “I’ve never seen anything like it,” he added.
Some researchers have suggested that the holes could have been created by seals, but when studying the images, they concluded that they are too big to have been created by animals.
Don Perovich, a sea ice geophysicist at Dartmouth College, the images snapped by NASA reveal that there is young ice growing within what used to be areas of “open water.”
“The ice is likely thin, soft and mushy and somewhat pliable. This can be seen in the wave-like features in front of the middle ‘amoeba,'” Perovich told NASA. He also adds that there is a “general left-to-right motion of the new ice,” as can be seen by “finger rafting” on the “right side of the image” released recently by NASA.
Some experts, like Kurtz, say that why it remains a mystery as to how the mysterious holes formed, images from NASA show evidence of a phenomenon called ‘finger rafting’ which occurs when two ice floes collide with each other, and slide above and below each other, just like interlocking fingers.
“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,” Kurtz said, NASA reported.
However, the experts added: “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.”
One mystery, many potential explanations, but none that satisfy scientists in general.
Walt Meier, a scientist at the US’ National Snow and Ice Data Center suggests that the holes could be explained by the way water moves over the snow and ice, when seals pop up for air, causing the snow to wash away.
But the Seal theory doesn’t seem to satisfy everyone, and Chris Shuman, a University of Maryland at Baltimore County glaciologist says:
“This is in pretty shallow water generally, so there is every chance this is just ‘warm springs’ or seeps of groundwater flowing from the mountains inland that make their presence known in this particular area,”
“The other possibility is that warmer water from Beaufort currents or out of the Mackenzie River is finding its way to the surface due to interacting with the bathymetry, just the way some polynyas form,” Shuman added. Polynyas are large areas of open water surrounded by sea ice.
Of course, if the seal theory doesn’t explain how the mysterious holes appeared in the artic, there’s always the ‘it was aliens’ explanation that some may find worthy of consideration.
Featured Image Credit: NASA photograph by John Sonntag/Operation IceBridge.