Mysterious hole the size of ME opens in Antarctica

A giant hole has opened up in Antarctica. Motherboard

A huge hole almost the size of the state of ME has opened up in the thick sea ice blanketing Antarctica's Weddell Sea.

But, with new observations using technology far more advanced than that available when it first appeared 40 years ago, they're hoping to uncover some answers.

"In the depths of winter, for more than a month, we've had this area of open water", says Kent Moore, professor of physics at the University of Toronto. This gaping polynya, which measures an area equivalent to the Netherlands, opened right in the middle of a sea which would have otherwise been completely covered in thick ice. "It's just remarkable that this polynya went away for 40 years and then came back". The team, comprised of scientists from the University of Toronto and the Southern Ocean Carbon and Climate Observations and Modelling (SOCCOM) project, was monitoring the area with satellite technology after a similar hole opened previous year.

The big questions right now are how often such polynya occur and whether or not climate change is amplifying their formation.

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A giant hole has opened up in Antarctica and scientists can't explain why. Scientists knew to monitor the area for polynyas this year because of last year's discovery.

"Once the sea ice melts back, you have this huge temperature contrast between the ocean and the atmosphere".

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.

It's not clear at this point if the ice hole is influenced in any way by climate change. "This is like opening a pressure relief valve - the ocean then releases a surplus of heat to the atmosphere for several consecutive winters until the heat reservoir is exhausted", said Prof.

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The holes form in coastal regions of Antarctica, but what's unusal here is that this polynya is "deep in the ice pack", Moore says.

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

Sea ice and clouds blanket the Weddell Sea around Antarctica in this satellite image from September 25, 2017.

At its peak, the Weddell Polynya measured a staggering 80,000 square kilometers (roughly 31,000 square miles). Preconditioning of the Weddell Sea polynya by the ocean mesoscale and dense water overflows.

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