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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 (rare) polynyi)

  1. (hydrology, oceanography) A naturally formed transient area of open water surrounded by sea ice, especially in polar or subpolar seas. [from mid 19th c.]
    Synonym: glade
    • 1844, Ferdinand von Wrangell, chapter V, in Edward Sabine, editor, Narrative of an Expedition to the Polar Sea  [], 2nd edition, London: James Madden and Co., [], →OCLC, 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.
    • 1853 June, “The Polar Seas and Sir John Franklin”, in Putnam's Magazine, volume I, number VI, New York, N.Y.: GP Putnam & Co.  []; London: Sampson Low, Son & Co., →OCLC, page 635, column 2:
      Hoping to reach the starting-place in the early season of navigation, he 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.
    • 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, 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.
    • 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.
    • 2022, Thomas Halliday, Otherlands, Penguin, published 2023, page 237:
      Below the glacier, within the polynya, two rivers flow, a river of salt and a river of earth.

Alternative forms[edit]



  1. ^ polynya”, in Lexico, Dictionary.com; Oxford University Press, 2019–2022.
  2. ^ polynya, n.”, in OED Online Paid subscription required, Oxford, Oxfordshire: Oxford University Press, September 2006.

Further reading[edit]