Global

In Antarctica there was a mysterious giant hole

In Antarctica there was a mysterious giant hole

The sea ice hole, known in the scientific community by the Russian term polynya, measured 80,000 square kilometres at its peak - a little bigger than New Brunswick and a little smaller than the island of Newfoundland.

Despite not knowing why it is opening and closing, scientists hope to use it to learn more about climate change.

A "polynya" is a large ice-free area that develops in an otherwise frozen sea, and this particular formation is situated in the Weddell Sea, east of the Antarctic Peninsula. Preconditioning of the Weddell Sea polynya by the ocean mesoscale and dense water overflows.

"It looks like you just punched a hole in the ice", atmospheric physicist Kent Moore, of the University of Toronto, told Vice's Motherboard.

'This is now the second year in a row it's opened after 40 years of not being there, ' Moore explained.

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"In the depths of winter, for more than a month, we've had this area of open water", Moore told National Geographic. It would not be noticeable without satellite imagery. This nearly twice the size of the Netherlands and marginally smaller than Ireland. "A very cold but relatively fresh water layer covers a much warmer and saltier water mass, thus acting as an insulating layer", said Mojib Latif, head of the Research Division at Geomar Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research Kiel. The polynya is expected to remain in place until warmer spring air prevents it from releasing heat and sinking water.

"We expect to see changes in the ocean, but it may take several years to see exactly how large those changes are and what impact they would have". Since during the first observation the scientists did not have the opportunity to study it, it remains unclear why it appears and how it disappears.

One of the biggest reason as to why this polynya remains so mysterious is that it's quite hard to explore such areas. This year it opened on the 9th of September. Due to higher precipitation levels in the region and melting ice, the surface is expected to decouple from deeper water layers.

"We don't really understand the long-term impacts this polynya will have", he says.

While Moore warns that it's too soon to blame global warming, other scientists note the differences between climate change caused by human activities and natural changes to the climate system.


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