a spring thaw in the north atlantic combined with winds, ocean currents and the coastal landscape result in intricate swirling sea ice pattens. though seemingly wispy, these white swirls are actually flows made up of ice chunks a few metres across — large enough to make maritime navigation difficult.
the photos (click pics for sources and location) were captured by the m.o.d.i.s. instruments aboard nasa’s terra and aqua satellites, save third and eight pictures, which were taken by astronauts aboard the international space station.
as phil plait put it, “i am awed and moved when i see images like the one above. its beauty is transcendent, and was made possible by our curiosity, our desire to learn more about the world we live in — an urge so strong we invented science, and engineering, and then built satellites that can look back at us from space and show us how surpassingly beautiful our world is, and how we need to take care of it.”
the past several years have seen sea ice in the arctic below the 1979-2000 average, with this past september displaying the lowest volumes yet recorded. these photos speak to the effects of climate change, as warmer winter temperatures result in thinner ice, which creates more free drifting sea ice in the spring and summer.