Antarctica is, of course, a very cold place. Temperatures of extreme lows, barren wastelands of snow and ice with cold winds blowing over the tundra.
Yet sometimes it is not just a land of snow or ice, we also find these bizarre ice cubes. Is Antarctica just a giant’s fridge where he stocks his ice cubes for a cool refreshing lemonade? Of course not! But how do these strange and irregular cubes form then?
See the image above that was shot in 1995 aptly named the icy sugar cubes, this was a shot from above by plane. It has recently won the top prize from the Royal Society for being an awe-inspiring scientific photograph. It definitely does take your breath away. But what is really interesting is when we look into how these cubes and squares form, I mean it does look like one epic maze no?
You see antarctic though it looks like it is solid ice that could withstand anything is actually always and ever-changing. The ice flows and stays in a constant state of motion, and this motion causes the ice to spread and grow. It bumps into each other and ricochets, causing ice to grind into each other. However, the ice is very thick so it does not break initially.
What happens is that as it starts to grow and spread, what was initially very thick ice becomes thinner. With the weight of the snow and the force of other sheets of ice constantly impacting against it, the ice eventually breaks and the snow on top falls through. This is what causes the first alleys to form which are always horizontal to the ice’s forward movement. Later on, as the ice grow even more and continually becomes weaker you also find perpendicular cracks which is what creates these cubes.
So no there are not giants making ice cubes in Antarctica or Aliens painting grids in the snow, this is just the consequence of science and mother nature at her best!