Massive Rift Detected in Arctic’s ‘Last Refuge of Ice’

Source: Gizmodo

During spring 2020, a temporary gap the size of Rhode Island appeared in the sea ice to the north of Canada’s northernmost island. Troublingly, this rift is located in the so-called “Last Ice Area”—a frozen expanse that’s expected to host the last remnants of Arctic sea ice as our world gets continually warmer.

For a period of two weeks in May 2020, a giant hole in the sea ice known as a polynya appeared in a region where these sorts of gaps are not supposed to form. Polynyas are natural gaps that form in places normally covered in ice, but this particular rift was spotted in a region north of Canada’s Ellesmere Island—a place thought to be immune to this sort of occurrence.

At its peak, the polynya measured 60 miles (100 kilometers) long and 19 miles (30 kilometers) wide. It formed in a location to the north of Ellesmere Island and Greenland that’s “predicted to be the last region to lose its multi-year ice,” according to the new paper, published in Geophysical Research Letters. The Last Ice Area hosts the thickest and oldest ice in the Arctic, which can reach over 16 feet (5 meters) thick in some places. It stands in stark contrast to the rest of the Arctic, where old, thick sea ice has been all but obliterated by warmer temperatures. That a polynya could form here came as a complete surprise to the researchers, led by Arctic researcher Kent Moore from the University of Toronto-Mississauga.



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