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Rare 'dragon-scale' ice discovered in frigid waters

A daring Antarctic expedition reveals a form of sea ice that looks like it could have been created for "Game of Thrones."

The icy scales of a sea dragon?

Guy Williams/University of Tasmania

When a scientist calls something "very rare, bizarre, evidence of a darker chaos in the cryospheric realm," you know it must be fascinating.

That's the description polar oceanographer Guy Williams of the University of Tasmania uses to describe the sighting of dragon-scale ice (also known as dragon-skin ice) during an ongoing Antarctic voyage that began in April.

Scientists aboard the US icebreaker research vessel Nathaniel B. Palmer came across the strange ice while studying an Antarctic polynya, or unfrozen water surrounded by ice. The University of Tasmania describes polynya areas as "ice factories" that produce massive amounts of ice due to local winds flowing from Antarctica's interior. The university highlighted the unusual find on Friday.

Williams notes that dragon-scale ice hasn't been seen in east Antarctica since 2007.

It's easy to see how the ice pattern gets its name. A close look shows overlapping "scales" of ice piled in vast sheets. It's the sort of imagery you would expect in the wintry fantasy world of "Game of Thrones."

Williams describes the journey as going into the "belly of an ice-breathing dragon" thanks to frigid hurricane-strength winds.

The PIPERS (polynyas, ice production, and seasonal evolution in the Ross Sea) expedition includes scientists from eight countries and 14 universities and research institutions.

The journey began last month and comes with this epic description: "The boat is full - every berth is occupied, and they all signed up to spend 2+ months chasing 60 mph winds, blowing ice, snow and sea spray in 24 hour darkness to better understand the role of polynyas in the dead of winter."

A swathe of dragon-scale ice.

Guy Williams/University of Tasmania

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