NASA teamed up with elephant seals to study polynyas, mysterious large holes of open water surrounded by ice that occasionally form on the surface Antarctica’s Weddell Sea, and may last for months, despite freezing temperatures, Geek.com reports (bit.ly/helperseals).
The seals were fitted with temporary satellite tags/sensors to collect ocean measurements under the sea ice. Data from satellite images and robotic drifters was also used to solve the mystery. One of the critters is pictured, courtesy of Dan Costa/University of California, Santa Cruz.
The answer? Polynyas are formed due to a convergence of a several factors, including unusual ocean conditions and intense storms swirling over the Weddell Sea. By the way, the largest one, the size of New Zealand, appeared between 1974 and 1976.