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Rare 'Dragon Skin' Ice Found in Antarctica Is Intensely Beautiful

rare dragon ice antarctica
Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies/University of Tasmania

No, this has nothing to do with Game of Thrones. (Though, it's been mentioned now, so... kind of?) Antarctic researchers have shared images of the rarely seen scaly ice formation referred to as dragon ice.

The Nathan B Palmer icebreaker research vessel is continuing an expedition near the south pole even as winter approaches and most research boats move toward warmer weather. The 27 scientists from eight countries aboard the ship are researching Antarctic polynya, which are areas where ice forms rapidly due to "katabatic" winds, which can hit hurricane strengths. Sometimes the ice freezes into these beautiful ornate patterns reminiscent of dragon scales.

“Dragon-skin ice is very rare, bizarre, evidence of a darker chaos in the cryospheric realm, not seen in Antarctica since 2007,” said IMAS researcher Dr. Guy Williams in a statement. It's a rare sight, but that's in part because winter in Antarctica is a bitch and there aren't many people hanging around throwing parties.

dragon ice antarctica
Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies/University of Tasmania

"Imagine your standard ice-cube tray, filled once," Williams said in the announcement. "After a week, you get one tray of ice cubes. But if you empty and refill the tray each night, you get so much more. That is what the katabatic winds are doing in the polynya, removing the ice, exposing the water and making more ice form."

Dr. Williams confirmed to Gizmodo that dragon ice is a variation on pancake ice, which forms "when piles of slushy ice are shaped and sculpted by wave action or winds." Dragon ice is basically pancake ice frozen on a larger sheet of ice. 

The team's research has more important ends in mind, but the images of dragon ice are a reminder that there is beauty to be found even in the harshest regions on the planet.

h/t Live Science

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Dustin Nelson is a News Writer with Thrillist. He believes dragon ice is also the name of a Game of Thrones episode where Daenerys goes north of the wall. Follow him @dlukenelson.
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