Researchers Wonder Why a Giant Hole Keeps Opening Up in Antarctica


A mysterious hole as big as the state of ME has been spotted in Antarctica's winter sea ice cover. This is the second year that a polynya formed, though last year's hole was not as big. At its peak, the Weddell Polynya measured 31,000 square miles, which is larger than the Netherlands and almost the size of the state of Maine.

The blue curves represent the ice edge, and the polynya is the dark region of open water within the ice pack. A more thorough and prolonged research would reveal the real reason behind the huge hole. A robotic float, which was sent there for transmitting data from the Weddell Sea surprisingly surfaced inside the polynya last month, stated a news release from the Southern Ocean Carbon and Climate Observations and Modeling project at Princeton. Kent Moore, an atmospheric physicist and a professor at the University of Toronto's Mississauga campus, says that it looks like a hole punched in the ice. Winter air temperatures are thought to be about negative 20 degrees Celsius there and very few flights or expeditions take place in Antarctica during the winter months. Such ice-free areas are called 'polynya' (Russian) by polar scientists. The warm water can keep the ice from reforming, but once it cools, it goes to the bottom, allowing the cycle to continue.

Known as polynyas or semipermanent area of open water in sea ice, this Weddell polynya is quite mysterious in terms of its origin.

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The current best guess is that warmer salt water from deep under the ice has managed to squeeze its way through the cold layer of fresh water that typically insulates it, causing a warm patch and ultimately melting the ice and forming a huge gap.

Moore says they are working to understand what is triggering the formation of these holes again after so many years.

'The better we understand these natural processes, the better we can identify the anthropogenic impact on the climate system'.

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A giant hole has opened up in Antarctica and scientists can't explain why.

Lead Image: Winter sea ice blankets the Weddell Sea around Antarctica with massive extra-tropical cyclones hovering over the Southern Ocean in this satellite image from September 25, 2017. It's the largest polynya to open in the Weddell Sea since the 1970s. "If there were earlier occurrences, there is no record of them", said Willy Weeks, a retired sea ice geophysicist from the University of Alaska in Fairbanks, while commenting at the time of the polynya's re-emergence in 2016.

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