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Irminger Sea ice swirl

05 July 2019

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The Copernicus Sentinel-2 mission takes us over a swirl of sea ice off the east coast of Greenland in the Irminger Sea, which is just south of the Denmark Strait between Greenland and Iceland.

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In this image captured on 9 June 2019, small pieces of sea ice, known as ice floes, trace out the ocean currents beneath, resulting in a large swirl-like feature of approximately 120 km in diameter.

This ice, which formed by freezing of the sea surface further north in the Arctic Ocean, has drifted southwards along the coast of Greenland before arriving at this location. The ice swirl is considered a typical eddy or vortex, commonly found in the summer marginal ice zone off the east coast of Greenland.

The marginal ice zone is the transition region from the open ocean, visible in dark blue, to the white sea ice. Depending on wind direction, waves and ocean currents, it can consist of small, isolated ice floes drifting over a large area to smaller ice floes pressed together in bright white bands.

Strong mesoscale air—ice—ocean interactive processes drive the advance and retreat of the sea ice edge, and result in the meanders or eddies visible in this region.

Investigations of such ocean eddies and meanders began in the 1970s and 1980s in the Greenland Sea to gain a better understanding of the interactions between the ocean, ice and atmosphere.

Copernicus Sentinel-2 is a two-satellite mission. Each satellite carries a high-resolution camera that images Earth's surface in 13 spectral bands. Together they cover all Earth's land surfaces, large islands, inland and coastal waters every five days at the equator.

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