Hole in Antarctic Sea Ice Confounds Scientists

Mystery of the massive hole nearly the size of Maine that has opened up in the sea ice around Antarctica

This graphic shows the massive size of the hole in the coastal ice, located just off Antarctica This graphic gives another perspective of the gap which is roughly the size of Ireland Pictured is Antarctica's Weddell Sea. In an otherwise thick layer of sea ice, still frozen from the Antarctic winter, the hole is an aberration.

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. "Denser, colder water sinks to the bottom of the ocean, while warmer water comes to the surface, which can keep the polynia open once it starts".

"In the depths of winter, for more than a month, we've had this area of open water", Moore said. 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. Ocean currents bring the warmer water upwards, where it melts the blankets of ice that had formed on the ocean's surface. "On-site measurements in the Southern Ocean still require enormous efforts, so they are quite limited".

"This is hundreds of kilometres from the ice edge".

'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'.

In this satellite image of the Weddell Sea polynya taken on September 21, 2017, blue represents the ice's edge.

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A vast hole has re-opened in Antarctica, and it could have something to teach us about climate change.

Still, it's unclear how often the Weddell Polynya re-emerges, and how long it will linger now that it's opened back up.

As massive changes are taking place in the Antarctica, finding the causes of the polynya's behavior will provide valuable information to understand better what's going on in the icy continent. Due to higher precipitation levels in the region and melting ice, the surface is expected to decouple from deeper water layers.

Blaming climate change for this giant hole is one alternative that the scientists have but according to Moore, that would be a premature thing. "The better we understand these natural processes, the better we can identify the anthropogenic impact on the climate system", said Professor Latif.

Scientists are now collecting as much data as they can.

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