Giant hole the size of ME reopens in Antarctica's Weddell Sea

Pauline Gross
October 13, 2017

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.

Although it's safe to assume that this massive hole in sea ice is connected to the climate change, however, that may not be the case. An enormous hole in Antarctica's sea ice could help solve a climate riddle.

The Weddell Polynya was first spotted in satellite observations during the mid-1970s. Experts believe that the Weddell polynya might a part of some cyclical process but they lack clear details.

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. Atmospheric physicist Kent Moore, a professor at the University of Toronto said that the hole is quite remarkable and it looks like you just punched a hole in the ice.

"This is now the second year in a row it's opened after 40 years of not being there", Moore told Motherboard. It would not be noticeable without satellite imagery.

The going theory, Moore said, is that ocean currents are lifting warmer waters from the ocean's depths up to the surface, where it's melting the ice.

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

Polynyas allow heat to escape the ocean, cooling the top layer of water as it becomes colder and denser - allowing more warm water to rise and keep the hole open.

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

"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", Lati added.

One of the biggest reason as to why this polynya remains so mysterious is that it's quite hard to explore such areas. Moore says it would be "premature" to connect it to climate change, though his team is analyzing data to better understand what could have caused this.

But this isn't the first time it's appeared. But scientists are denying to conclude that this has happened due to global warming. "We don't really understand the long-term impacts this polynya will have".

Other reports by GizPress

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