Ross Sea Antarctica
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Ross Sea, Antarctica

December 15, 2010
On a relatively balmy austral summer day, the dark waters of the Ross Sea, shrouded in ice all winter, become unveiled as the sea ice begins its seasonal summer retreat. The Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) aboard the Aqua satellite captured this true-color image as it passed overhead on December 8, 2010.

On this day, McMurdo Station, Antarctica was covered by clouds, but reported a high temperature of 30°F (-1°C) which is several degrees warmer than the average December high of 26°F (-3.4°C) and substantially higher than the average August lows of -15°F (-26.1°C). The research station sits on Ross Island, found in the lower center of the image, to the west of the tan soil of the McMurdo Dry Valleys and to the west of the stark white of the Ross Ice Shelf.

Each summer, the Ross Ice Shelf melts from the land outwards towards the sea, creating an area of open water between the land and the ice shelf. The name for an area of open water surrounded by sea ice is a polynya. Polynyas that occur at the same time and place each year allow life in the region to adapt their survival strategies to this regularity, such as the penguins that live and breed in the area of the Ross Sea. Even humans have adapted to the seasonal melting of this sea ice, using the summer thaw to schedule the arrival of supply ships which bring food, fuel and summer workers to the Antarctic outpost.

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