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Polar Climates

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Brinicles

Brinicles

Credit: NASA
Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Sea_Ice_MeltPonds.png
License: CC BY-NC 3.0

Under the Antarctic sea ice is something creepy. It kills on contact or even just before contact. No one knew it even existed until a few years ago. It’s a brinicle, a brine icicle.

Amazing But True!

Under the Antarctic ice is an amazing world. Sea stars and crabs feed on the bottom. Seals and fish may swim by. The salt water has temperatures below freezing: -2o C (28oF). For the Discovery Channel series, Frozen Planet, photographers dove beneath the ice to film this amazing world. While they were there they discovered something new. The researchers developed a special system to photograph it. The system is water tight and time-lapse, and can work in intensely cold conditions. It even survived a seal attack.

Credit: Michael Van Woert
Source: http://www.photolib.noaa.gov/htmls/corp2418.htm
License: CC BY-NC 3.0

A seal taking a peek out of the water [Figure2]

Explore More

Use the links below to learn more about brinicles. Then answer the following questions.

  1. How can the temperature of the water below the Antarctic ice be below freezing?
  2. What is a brinicle made of?
  3. Why does the brinicle sink?
  4. Why does the brine freeze the seawater around it?
  5. How do the animals die?

Image Attributions

  1. [1]^ Credit: NASA; Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Sea_Ice_MeltPonds.png; License: CC BY-NC 3.0
  2. [2]^ Credit: Michael Van Woert; Source: http://www.photolib.noaa.gov/htmls/corp2418.htm; License: CC BY-NC 3.0

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