Mystery holes in Arctic ice baffle NASA

Strange circles captured at the North Pole have NASA scientists stumped. Source NASA

After first posting the picture in April, NASA says they have some ideas as to what actually caused the holes, but the agency says it has no definitive answer. Jump over to NASA's site and drop a note in the comments.

"We saw these sorta-circular features only for a few minutes today", IceBridge mission scientist John Sonntag, the man who snapped the photo, wrote from the field.

After capturing the moment from the window of the P-3 research plane, scientists then began speculating what it could be.

"The holes may have been gnawed out by seals to create an open area in the ice through which they can surface to breathe", the report read.

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"I don't recall seeing this sort of thing elsewhere", said scientist John Sonntag, who is a part of NASA's Operation IceBridge.

For that theory to hold, there needs to be a good explanation for why the sea ice in this particular spot is thin enough for the seals to break through. NASA said that this type of odd holes was never seen before in the Arctic region and they really want to know what has caused these formations.

If that's the case, it's possible the larger circles that surround the holes come from the behaviour of the seals, forming freezing puddles as the animals emerge from their frigid dip.

However scientists are still stumped as to what could be causing the semi-circle shaped features surrounding the holes. The ice in that region is described as fresh, thin, and soft, a determination made based on some of the features visible in the image.

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Chris Polashenski, a sea ice scientist at the Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory, says he's seen this before, and doesn't know for sure what they are. "I have never seen anything like that before", said Kurtz. Initial analysis revealed that ice was thin and young and as per The National Snow and Ice Data Center's Walt Meier, the holes might have been formed due to the Arctic Ocean water drifting over the ice.

You might not know Sonntag's name, but you've nearly definitely seen his photographic portfolio before, as his day job sees him aerially documenting the wintry, white vistas that define the world's evolving Arctic and Antarctic landscapes.

Other suggestions include warm springs made from groundwater flowing from the mountains, or the warmer currents of the Beaufort Sea or the nearby Mackenzie River reaching the surface. We'll just have to wait for the next flyover and hope Sonntag gets a shot of an ice hole complete with a pop-up seal catching some air.

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