Massive Hole Appears In Antarctic Ice and Scientists Aren't Sure Why

Byrd expedition

Now, a massive hole the size of Lake Superior has appeared many miles inland from where the ice meets the ocean, and scientists have little concrete explanation as to why it's there. This is the second year that a polynya formed, though last year's hole was not as big.

The hole, which is known as a polynya, is about 80,000 square kilometres at its largest, making it the biggest polynya observed in Antarctica's Weddell Sea since the 1970s.

As these ice gaps typically form in coastal regions, however, the appearance of a polynya "deep in the ice pack" is an unusual occurrence.

A "polynya" is a large ice-free area that develops in an otherwise frozen sea; the features are commonly seen in both the Arctic and Antarctic sea ice. "In the depths of winter, for more than a month, we've had this area of open water", Kent Moore, an atmospheric scientist at the University of Toronto, told National Geographic. Did the Weddell polynya occur before 1970, and we are looking at a periodic process that shows itself about every 40 years?

The cooling of the warmer ocean water when it reaches the surface may also have a broader impact on the ocean's temperature, but Moore says outside of local weather effects, scientists aren't sure what this polynya will mean for Antarctica's oceans and climate, and whether it is related to climate change.

A robotic float has been deployed to study the polynya's measurements, which lies hundreds of kilometers from the ice edge. Some American scientists think that this polynya will never re-appear, as melting ice and more precipitation in the air separates the surface ice sheet from deeper layers of water.

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It's larger than The Netherlands, and almost the size of Lake Superior.

'A very cold but relatively fresh water layer covers a much warmer and saltier water mass, thus acting as an insulating layer.

One of the biggest reason as to why this polynya remains so mysterious is that it's quite hard to explore such areas.

The polynya went away for forty years and reopened in September 2016 for a few weeks.

Moore has been working with the Southern Ocean Carbon and Climate Observations and Modeling (SOCCOM) project at Princeton University to monitor the area with satellite technology.

"Global warming is not a linear process and happens on top of internal variability inherent to the climate system. The better we understand these natural processes, the better we can identify the anthropogenic impact on the climate system", Latif said.



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