Science

Mysterious giant hole cracks open in Antarctica

Mysterious giant hole cracks open in Antarcticaā€¯

Now, a massive hole the size of Lake Superior has appeared many miles inland from where the ice meets the ocean, and scientists have little concrete explanation as to why it's there. The hole, comparable in size to Austria or ME, appeared without warning and without any apparent reason. 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.

A giant hole has opened up in Antarctica. However, climate change certainly can influence the structure of sea ice and polynia. University of Toronto Mississauga professor Kent Moore told Motherboard that the hole is "quite remarkable", but scientists still can't figure out how or why that it has happened again. "If we didn't have a satellite, we wouldn't know it was there", Moore said, adding that the polynya was 80,000 square kilometers (30,900 square miles) in area. But in this case we are talking about hundreds of kilometers separating the hole from a line in section.

The odd ice-free area was first spotted in the 1970s in the midst of the harsh Antarctic winter, despite frigid temperatures - and now, 40 years after it closed, the so-called Weddell Polynya has returned. "In the depths of winter, for more than a month, we've had this area of open water".

Working with the Princeton-based Southern Ocean Carbon and Climate Observations and Modelling (SOCCOM) group, Moore and his colleagues are using observations from deep-sea robots and satellites to study the phenomenon, which in the 1970s was first detected on the same site.

After closing back up, and remaining that way for roughly 40 years, it has re-opened. In case of this giant hole, it is odd that it has formed "deep in the ice pack".

The hole was first discovered in the same location in the 1970s, but scientists' ability to study it was limited at the time.

However, the polynya will affect oceans worldwide. "It can start driving convection", the process by which warm water rises to the surface of the ocean, "which can keep the polynya open once it starts". "Once the sea ice melts back, you have this huge temperature contrast between the ocean and the atmosphere", he explained to Motherboard.

Because of this feedback loop of warm water rising to the surface as a result of the polynya, it may be a long while before it closes again. "The better we understand these natural processes, the better we can identify the anthropogenic impact on the climate system", said Professor Latif.



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