Sea ice in Tierra del Fuego: Why did the sea freeze?

Extreme cold and snowfall affect much of Argentina, causing problems, especially throughout Patagonia. However, this time, the cold is news because it generated a surprising view on the coasts of Paraje San Sebastián, north of Tierra del Fuego. Residents and tourists were amazed and shared images of the sea ice on social networks, since in addition to being beautiful, it is an unusual event. The white immensity seemed frozen in time.

Sea ice
Frozen sea in Tierra del Fuego – Image from La Vanguardia
Why did the sea freeze?

Seas freeze due to a combination of factors including air temperature, water salinity, and environmental conditions.

Sea water freezes at a lower temperature than fresh water due to its salinity. While fresh water freezes at 0°C (32°F), seawater with an average salinity of 3.5% freezes at approximately -1.8°C (28.8°F). In polar regions and during extreme winters, air temperatures can drop considerably, cooling seawater to the freezing point.

Also, as seawater freezes, the ice formed is mostly fresh water, as salt is trapped in the remaining liquid water. This increases salinity and further lowers the freezing point of unfrozen water.

How is sea ice formed?

The process of sea ice freezing begins with the formation of ice crystals on the surface. These crystals clump together and form a layer of ice, which can be a mixture of ice and brackish water in its early stages. As the temperature continues to drop, the ice cover becomes thicker and more widespread. Sea ice can therefore grow in thickness and extent, especially during the long, cold polar winters.

Environmental factors essential for this natural phenomenon to arise

Wind movement and ocean currents play an important role in the formation of sea ice. Wind can push floating ice around, creating open areas of water that can refreeze, while currents can bring warmer or colder water to different areas.

The amount of sunlight reaching the sea surface also affects the formation and melting of ice. During the winter months in the polar regions, there is very little sunlight, which contributes to the formation of sea ice.

Where can this natural phenomenon occur?

Polar regions are the most common places where sea ice forms. In the Arctic, it can persist year-round, while in Antarctica, most of it forms during the winter and partially melts during the summer.

Sea freezing is a complex phenomenon influenced by multiple environmental and physical factors. Understanding and analyzing these processes is crucial for the study of climate and the marine ecosystem.

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