New ice grows on cracks created by icebreakers in the pack ice. Abruptly the surface of this new ice changes texture. The cold, moist air above the open cracks becomes saturated and frost begins to form wherever an imperfection can be found on the ice surface. From these nucleation points the flower-like frost structures grow vertically, quickly rising to centimeters in height.
These delicate ice structures, frost flowers, turn out to host microbes that survive to extremely cold temperatures, a discovery that can be applied to the origin of life here on Earth, as well as looking for life on other moons and planets.
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Pictures by Jeff Bowman, Jody Deming, Matthias Wietz from the University of Washington