The Shape of Ice

Jul 25, 2018  By Albert Knapp MD & Ruth Oratz MD

Detail. HANUSSE BAY ANTARCTICA Leica S (007), Vario-Elmar-S 30-90 MM f/3.5-5.6 ASPH at 68mm at f/8, 1/500 SEC, ISO 800


Detail. Hanusse Bay, Antarctic Peninsula. Leica S (007), Vario-Elmar-S 30-90mm f/3.5-5.6 ASPH at 90mm at f/8, 1/350 SEC, ISO 800


ANTARCTICA, the frozen continent is a unique and extreme environment. Ice defines the terrestrial and marine limits of an area extending beyond 14 million km3 (5.4 million square miles). Ice that is 2,000 m. thick (6,560 ft.) covers this enormous landmass. 90% of the planet’s ice is here, the largest collection of fresh water on Earth. Ice that is vast and permanent, more than 30 million years old, is also fluid and plastic, flowing continuously from the frozen center to the watery edges where continental ice and sea ice merge.

Antarctic ice has formed from successive deposits of snow, which over time have compacted; crystals adhering to one another, transformed into transparent glassy solid sheets. But the ice changes shape and color as is it migrates and moves. Initially snow is white reflecting back all light, but as it melts and refreezes, the lattice patterns mutate with the properties of water. Red and yellow is absorbed superficially, blue light reflects back from the depths of the melted and refrozen lattice, changing constantly and forever the shape and color of ice.

When ice meets the sea it becomes lighter and thinner, floating on the surface, rimming the edges of the continent with massive buoyant shelves that then calf explosively, sending huge chunks thundering into the water, forming icebergs. Large flat tabular icebergs are born directly from the shelves and we see them from great distances on the far horizon. Fantastically shaped icebergs are fractured from the continental ice tongues and glaciers. These smaller, irregularly shaped fragments set adrift are continuously sculpted by the winds and the currents, resulting in visions of ice undreamt.

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