Cryoconite holes are vertical cylindrical melt holes in the glacier surface, which have a thin layer of sediment at the bottom and are filled with water. The Swedish explorer, A. E. Nordenskjöld, first named these melt holes during his 1870 Greenland expedition: “cryo” meaning ice and “conite” meaning dust .  


(Storglaciären, Sweden:   Note ruler with cm marks)






Cryoconite holes are common to the ablation zone of glaciers world-wide, including the
Arctic , temperate glaciers of the mid-latitudes, and the Antarctic.  On most glaciers, particularly those in temperate zones, the holes form water-filled pools, with typical horizontal and vertical dimensions of ~ <10 cm, with maximum dimensions <1 m. 

Cryoconite holes are not limited to glaciers, but also appear on sea ice and lake ice.  Cryoconite holes have not been explicitly recognized as such on the permanent ice covered lakes of the McMurdo Dry Valleys , but features with similar formation mechanisms have been studied and can be considered as cryoconite holes.  The holes have been known by a variety of names, including dust wells, dust basins, sub-surface melt pools and baignoire, the latter being a name for a large (~1 m diameter) elongated, bathtub-shaped features.   

The holes form due to the lower albedo sediment absorbing more solar radiation than the lighter surrounding ice.  Consequently, the sediment melts into the ice.  The equilibrium depth of the cryoconite hole is reached when the rate of downward melting equals the melt rate of the surface ice.


Go to:       1. Photos of cryoconite holes on Storglaciären, Sweden

                2. Photos of cryoconite holes in the McMurdo Dry Valleys of Antarctica

                3, The experiment to create a cryoconite hole


LTER Newsletter article about cryoconite holes   .....if you prefer the Chinese version its here


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