Free enamel pin when you buy any two Atlas Obscura products. Shop now.

Found: Rare, Bizarre ‘Dragon-Skin Ice’

It’s “evidence of a darker chaos,” one scientist says.

The wind creates a scaly formation.
The wind creates a scaly formation. University of Tasmania

In the west Antarctica, in a place where there’s a patch of open water ringed by sea ice, scientists on a U.S. icebreaker observed, for the first time in a decade, a “very rare, bizarre” formation known as “dragon-skin ice.”

The wind in this place is strong—hurricane-strength, even—and can lift up ice that’s formed on the surface, exposing the water beneath, as Science Alert reports. That exposed water freezes into ice, too, create a scaly ice surface that looks a little bit like butter smeared in flour, a pie-crust in the making.

"Evidence of a darker chaos."
“Evidence of a darker chaos.” University of Tasmania

This phenomenon, though, is “evidence of a darker chaos in the cyrospheric realm,” says Guy Williams, a polar oceanographer at the University of Tasmania. The cryosphere is the Earth’s frozen reaches—the spot where Willaims and other researchers encountered the ice is the rare place where frozen water and incredibly strong winds meet, “an epic demonstration of polar ocean-atmospheric interaction,” Williams says.