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

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

At 16,000 square miles, the 2017 Weddell polynya is roughly the size of Switzerland, and it's thought to be "driven by the upwelling of warm water, which releases heat to the air, before becoming cooler and denser, and sinking".

The hole was discovered by researchers about a month ago.

The scientific term for a hole in sea ice is "polynya", and one usually forms when ocean currents drive warm water up toward the surface, which melts the ice on top, according to Quartz.

Scientists believe the polynya is formed because of the deep water in the Southern Ocean being warmer and saltier than the surface water. A team comprised of scientists from the University of Toronto and the Southern Ocean Carbon and Climate Observations and Modeling (SOCCOM) project found the hole during one of the monitoring exercises with the help of satellite technology.

"It looks like you just punched a hole in the ice", atmospheric physicist Kent Moore, of the University of Toronto, told Vice's Motherboard. In addition, scientists hope that in the near future it will be possible to simulate such a system with the help of computer simulation.




Moore told Vice that scientists observed a similar polynya in the Weddell Sea in the 1970s, but they hadn't seen it again until a year ago. That melting created the polynya. "From global circulation, we know how much deep water should be formed, but the areas we know are forming water now just aren't forming enough".

The hole first showed up on satellite images on September 9 and the researchers said it would be premature to blame the polynya on climate change. He thinks it is likely that marine mammals could be using this new opening to breathe.

"This is hundreds of kilometers from the ice edge". "Through the hole in the ice heat escapes from the ocean, warming the atmosphere above but more so cooling the ocean underneath". "We're still trying to figure out what's going on", Moore said.

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

According to researchers from the GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research Kiel, who first discovered the polymya, it is now in the middle of the winter season in Antarctica and the Weddell Sea is usually covered by a thick layer of sea ice.

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