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Polynyas (No - not starring Hayley Mills)
Polynyas are areas of ice-free water in the Arctic ice pack that stay clear for up to 9 or 10 months of the year. These openings are caused by ocean currents, wind patterns, tides, or upwellings of warmer water.
The areas of open water vary in size, and some can be huge - spreading over an area of up to 50,000 sq. km / 20,000 sq. miles.
Some polynyas occur at the same time and place each year (so regularly that they're even mapped and named), and the open waters provide a predictable overwintering ground for marine mammals such as walruses, narwhals and belugas that do not migrate south.
In spring, the thin or absent ice cover allows light to penetrate the ocean's surface layer as soon as the winter night ends, and this triggers the early blooming of microalgae that are at the base of the marine food chain.
It is through openings such as this that submarines like the U.S.S. Skate sometimes surface. Subs are known to pop up through the Arctic ice from time to time, and openings that are already mapped just make things easier.
Click pictures for more information and credits.
Library: Arctic, Ice, Animals
Links: Arctic, Arctic Animals, Boats & Ships
Arctic Maps & Weather Reports
Arctic Submarine Laboratory, What's a Polynya?
News Story: "Submarines Surface in Arctic"
DICTIONARY: Just "double-click" any unlinked word on this page for the definition from Merriam-Webster's Student Electronic Dictionary at Word Central.
ARCTIC LIBRARY & GLOSSARY: Check this section for an index of the rest of the things you really need to know about the Arctic.
ARCTIC MAPS & WEATHER REPORTS: Maps of the Northwest Passage, explorers' routes, iceberg sources, Nunavut, the Arctic by treeline, temperature...
ARCTIC LINKS: Even more information! Links to sites related to the Arctic and "Iceberg: the Story of the Throps and the Squallhoots".
GUIDE TO ARCTIC SUNRISE & SUNSET: How much sunlight or darkness is there in the Arctic on each day of the year?