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An image of a polynya (right, labelled) off the coast of Antarctica near Ross Island, taken on 16 November 2011 by the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on the satellite Aqua

Borrowed from Russian полынья́ (polynʹjá, polynya), from по́лый (pólyj, hollow).[1] The rare plural form polynyi is borrowed from Russian полыньи́ (polynʹí).[2]



polynya (plural polynyas or polynyi) (rare)

  1. (hydrology, oceanography) A naturally formed area of open water surrounded by sea ice, especially in the Arctic. [from mid 19th c.]
    Synonym: glade
    • 1844, Ferdinand von Wrangell [i.e., Ferdinand von Wrangel], chapter V, in Edward Sabine, editor, Narrative of an Expedition to the Polar Sea, in the Years 1820, 1821, 1822 & 1823. [], 2nd edition, London: James Madden and Co., [], OCLC 317512813, pages 102–103:
      We immediately ascended a hill, and saw that the supposed land was nothing but hummocks of ice, piled up beyond a large Polynia, or space of open water, which extended from east to west, as far as the eye could reach.
    • 1851 November 8, “The Expedition in Search of Sir John Franklin. [From the New York Tribune.]”, in E[liakim] Littell, editor, Littel’s Living Age, volume XXXI, number CCCXC, Boston, Mass.: Published by E. Littel & Company; Philadelphia, Pa.: Getz & Buck, []; New York, N.Y.: Dewitt & Davenport, [], OCLC 913200987, chapter XXII, page 242, column 1:
      The American Expedition, therefore, was in a position more favourable to the search. It was in a far higher latitude, and the so-called polyna (open sea) could not have been far distant, but the inevitable drift into the waters of Lancaster Sound was fatal to its spring progress, and fatal to the chances which the enterprise had won.
    • 1853 January, E[lisha] K[ent] Kane, “Paper on ‘Access to an Open Polar Sea along a North American Meridian.’”, in Bulletin of the American Geographical and Statistical Society, volume I, number 2, New York, N.Y.: Published for the [American Geographical and Statistical] Society by G[eorge] P[almer] Putnam, [], OCLC 758332107, page 87:
      The Circum-Polar ice, as I will venture to name it, may be said to bound an imperfect circle of 6000 miles in circumference, [] But theory has determined that this great surface is not continuous. It is an annulus, a ring surrounding an area of open water,—the Polynya, or Iceless Sea. Polynya is a Russian word, signifying an open space; and it is used by the Siberians to indicate the occasional vacancies which occur in a frozen water surface.
    • 1853 June, “The Polar Seas and Sir John Franklin”, in Putnam’s Monthly. A Magazine of Literature, Science, and Art, volume I, number VI, New York, N.Y.: G[eorge] P[almer] Putnam & Co., []; London: Sampson Low, Son & Co., OCLC 221113463, page 635, column 2:
      Hoping to reach the starting-place in the early season of navigation, he [Elisha Kent Kane] intends to follow his course of travel nearly upon a meridional line, which would, it is believed, lead him to the Polynya—a mare liberum, or such, comparatively speaking—within its formidable borderings of the thick-ribbed ice.
    • 1980, “Summary of the Meeting”, in Polar Bears: [], Gland, Switzerland: International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources, →ISBN, paragraph 9, page 23:
      Dr. [Ian] Stirling pointed out that colonies of nesting sea-birds were an indicator of permanent polynias and that the productivity studies in such polynias might prove interesting.
    • 1984 March, “Description of the Affected Environment”, in Proposed Diapir Field Lease Offering (June 1984): Final Environmental Impact Statement (Outer Continental Shelf EIS; MMS 84-0009), [Anchorage, Ak.]: Minerals Management Service, Alaska Outer Continental Shelf Region, United States Department of the Interior, OCLC 10565162, section A.3 (Sea Ice), page III-23:
      Along the western Alaska coast between Point Hope and Point Barrow, there is often a band of open-water seaward of the landfast ice zone during winter and spring [] . This opening is at times a well-defined lead and at other times a series of openings in the sea ice or polynyi.
    • 1985 December, “Environmental Consequences”, in Proposed Norton Basin Sale 100: Final Environmental Impact Statement (OCS EIS/ES; MMS 85-0085), volume I, [Anchorage, Ak.]: Minerals Management System, Alaska Outer Continental Shelf Region, United States Department of the Interior, OCLC 1103309097, section A.2(a) (Fate and Behavior of Spilled Oil), page IV-A-21:
      To get into the water of a polynya earlier than breakup, oil would have to be spilled into a polynya or a polynya would have to form through the ice-entrapped spill; that is, break the ice in the middle of the frozen spill.
    • 2006, George A. Knox, “The Southern Ocean”, in Biology of the Southern Ocean (Marine Biology Series), 2nd edition, Boca Raton, Fla.: CRC Press, →ISBN, section 1.6 (Circulation Patterns and Water Masses), page 11, column 1:
      Polynas play an important role in heat transfer from the oceans to the atmosphere, ice production, the formation of dense shelf water, spring disintegration of sea ice, phytoplankton and zooplankton production, and the distribution of higher trophic animals such as cephalopods, fish, birds, seals, and cetaceans. Within polynas, the oceanic heat loss may be 10–100 times above that of the ice-covered surface.
    • 2007, Ola M. Johannessen [et al.], “Sea-ice Conditions in the Arctic and in the Northern Sea Route”, in Remote Sensing of Sea Ice in the Northern Sea Route: Studies and Applications (Springer–Praxis Books in Geophysical Sciences; Nansen Center’s Polar Series; no. 4), Berlin; Heidelberg: Springer-Verlag; Chichester, West Sussex: Published in association with Praxis Publishing, →ISBN, section 2.2.3 (Landfast Ice and Polynyas of the Arctic Seas), page 60:
      The appearance of flaw polynyas and of coastal polynyas, in the absence of landfast ice, depends on the direction and duration of off-ice and offshore (i.e., from the shore) wind, and also on the orientation of the ice boundary relative to the wind direction. Polynyas present extensive areas of tens to hundreds of kilometers of open water or young ice up to 30 cm thick forming between landfast ice and drifting ice.
    • 2008 June 20, Jane George, “‘We’ve had the biggest surprises and more questions are coming out.’: The secret life of snowy owls”, in Nunatsiaq News[1], archived from the original on 29 December 2018:
      Researchers now plan to compare their routes with satellite images and see whether the owls stayed around the polynas, where snowy owls have been seen, picking off eiders swimming in the open water.

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