Mosaic image of sea ice in the Beaufort Sea created by the Digital Mapping System (DMS) instrument aboard the IceBridge P-3B. The dark area in the middle of the image is open water seen through a lead, or opening, in the ice. Light blue areas are thick sea ice and dark blue areas are thinner ice formed as water in the lead refreezes. Leads are formed when cracks develop in sea ice as it moves in response to wind and ocean currents.
DMS uses a modified digital SLR camera that points down through a window in the underside of the plane, capturing roughly one frame per second. These images are then combined into an image mosaic using specialized computer software. Credit: NASA / DMS. Also Sea ice arises as seawater freezes. Because ice is less dense than water, it floats on the ocean’s surface (as does fresh water ice, which has an even lower density). Sea ice covers about 7% of the Earth’s surface and about 12% of the world’s oceans. Much of the world’s sea ice is enclosed within the polar ice packs in the Earth’s polar regions: the Arctic ice pack of the Arctic Ocean and the Antarctic ice pack of the Southern Ocean. Polar packs undergo a significant yearly cycling in surface extent, a natural process upon which depends the Arctic ecology, including the ocean’s ecosystems. Due to the action of winds, currents and temperature fluctuations, sea ice is very dynamic, leading to a wide variety of ice types and features. Sea ice may be contrasted with icebergs, which are chunks of ice shelves or glaciers that calve into the ocean. Depending on location, sea ice expanses may also incorporate icebergs.