Tech & Science

What Caused These Weird Giant Sugar Cubes To Form In Antarctic Ice?

cubes
The coast of Antarctica appears to have the shape of sugar cubes but in reality is fast moving snow and ice. Peter Convey

The winner of the 2017 Royal Society Publishing Photography Competition is "Icy Sugar Cubes," an Antarctic scene shot in 1995. The image, though beautiful, also offers important insight into how ice and snow behaves in the world all the way down under.

The image was shot by Peter Convey, a terrestrial ecologist with the British Antarctic Survey during a flight over the English Coast of the southern Antarctic Peninsula in 1995, the Royal Society reported. The photograph shows strange formations are created as an ice sheet is stretched in two directions. However, not all is what it seems in the images, and though the cubes may seem like three-dimensional solids, in reality it’s an illusion caused by the moving ice and snow.

Related: This Salty Pond In Antarctica That Never Freezes May Help Us Better Understand Life In The Universe

Ted Scambos, a glaciologist and lead scientist for the National Snow & Ice Data Center science team told Live Science that the photograph shows “fast flowing and floating ice.”

According to Scambos, as the ice spreads, it also begins to thin and crack. Through these cracks, snow can fall through and create an illusion of a strange shape, in this case the cube grid we can see.

A massive slab of flowing ice begins to go afloat and initially, because it is very thick, it spreads laterally [side to side], creating deep along-flow troughs,” Scambos told Live Science. “Later, with further flow, the ice begins to stretch out longitudinally, and the surface snow breaks perpendicular to the first troughs."

Related: Ice Melting in Antarctica Could Push Sea Levels High Enough To Flood Out 236 Million People, Scientists Predict 

Antarctica is a continent completely covered with ice, and although it is considered a desert, it is also the coldest place on Earth, according to NASA. The more inland you get on the continent, the colder the temperatures get, although in the wintertime the temperatures are always below freezing. The continent is also full of its own mysteries, and is believed to be the closest that we can get to exploring life on Mars before actually stepping foot there.

For example, in a recent study published last month, researchers investigated the origins of a shallow pond in Antarctica that is far too salty for it to ever freeze over, even in the coldest of winter temperatures. The researchers suggest that this pond in Antarctica could be a good indication of what water on Mars was like, if water was found to exist on the Red Planet.

Scientists often stay at bases in Antarctica for several months at a time in complete isolation in order to better understand how a long term mission to space and Mars would be like, CNN reported. However, despite being right here on our own planet, this distant continent remains a mystery in more ways than one.   

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