From storybook snowcapped mountains to the poles, Earth’s cold spots make for an interesting experience. Ski antics and monster sightings aside, ice fields can produce things that scientists have never seen before, clues about history, and even far-reaching disasters that are born in the Arctic.
It was the photograph that walked away with the first prize at the 2017 Royal Society Publishing Photography Competition.
In 1995, an ecologist snapped the huge blocks from the air near the English Coast of the southern Antarctic Peninsula. The ice blocks resemble sugar cubes arranged in a pattern not normally seen in nature. What people see, in fact, is an illusion.
The ice is there, but the cubes do not rise as the three-dimensional blocks that won the prestigious competition. Far from being stationary towers, the ice is on the move—and fast.
The floating sheet is being stretched in two opposite directions, and these forces are behind the strange grid. The horizontal lines result from the side-to-side pulling. Vertical cracks form from top-to-bottom stress. The deep troughs then run through each other and produce the squares.
Tourists travel to remote places to witness fantastic events, while icebergs and shelves behave in ways that scientists cannot explain. But the frozen depths can also hold some of the most terrifying discoveries and disappearances in the natural world.