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Alaskan ice fractures detected by NASA satellite

Staff writers
April 4, 2013 — A NASA satellite has picked up significant sea-ice fracturing in northern Alaska between January and March 2013.

A high pressure system parked over northern Alaska in late January, producing warm temperatures and winds that prompted the Beaufort Gyre, a wind-driven ocean current, to start pulling pieces of ice toward Point Barrow, the northernmost point of the U.S.

A NASA satellite captured the stunning migration, providing a new perspective into how the Arctic ice cap works.

"Visualizations of the Arctic often give the impression that the ice cap is a continuous sheet of stationary, floating ice. In fact, it is a collection of smaller pieces that constantly shift, crack, and grind against one another as they are jostled by winds and ocean currents. Especially during the summer—but even during the height of winter—cracks—or leads—open up between pieces of ice. That was what was happening on the left side of the animation in late January," NASA explained.

While the video looks dramatic, the phenomenon is nothing out of the ordinary.

"A fracturing event in this area is not unusual because the Beaufort Gyre tends to push ice away from Banks Island and the Canadian Archipelago,” explained Walt Meier of the National Snow & Ice Data Center.

“Point Barrow can act like a ‘pin point’ where the ice catches and fractures to the north and east.”

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