The surface condition of the North Water was investigated during two winters (i.e. the three polynyas: Smith Sound polynya, Lady Ann Strait polynya, and Barrow Strait polynya). Since no detailed information was available on ice conditions and the extent of open water during winter, radiometric temperature measurements of the sea surface had to be taken along a flight line of 2650 km from an altitude of 300 m. From November to March 1978-79 and 1980-81, 14 remote-sensing flights were carried out. On the basis of the radiometric measurements, the following ice types were identified: ice-free, dark nilas, light nilas, grey ice, grey-white ice, and white ice. A comparison between the thermal and the visual ice classification (the latter being based on grey tones of the aerial images) showed a deviation of 3%. The analysis showed that in November, December, and January more than 50% of the Smith Sound polynya was covered by young ice, nilas, and ice-free, whereas in February and March white ice was dominant. Moreover, it was found that the two polynyas in Smith Sound and Lady Ann Strait were much smaller than previously believed. In Barrow Strait, a semi-permanent polynya was observed in the winter of 1980-81. The occurrence of polynyas in Barrow Strait seems to be connected with the location of the fast-ice edge. On the basis of the calculated ice-type distribution and heat-flux rates for different ice types, an energy loss of 178 W m-2 was found on the surface of the Smith Sound polynya due to open water and thin ice for the winter months November to March. Compared with other ice-covered sea surfaces in the Arctic, the heat release by the sea-water in the Smith Sound polynya is about 100 W m-2 larger.