Researchers Wonder Why a Giant Hole Keeps Opening Up in Antarctica

A Giant Mysterious Hole Has Emerged In Antarctica And Scientists Still Don't Know The Reason

The unusual 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.

What is clear is that climate change does have an impact on the structure of the Antarctic Ocean.

According to VICE, a polynya occurred in the same location in 1970s. Then, it disappeared for 40 years only to reappear last year. At its peak, the Weddell Polynya measured 31,000 square miles, which is larger than the Netherlands and almost the size of the state of Maine.

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

Areas of open water enveloped by ice, such as this hole are known as polynias and are formed in the coastal areas of Antarctica.

"In the depths of winter, for more than a month, we've had this area of open water", says Kent Moore, professor of physics at the University of Toronto.

"This is now the second year in a row it's opened after 40 years of not being there", Moore said. However, we've got a good chance of understanding what's going on this time. Interestingly, this isn't the first polynya to open up in this region.

As scientists continue to hone their climate models and flawless their predictions, they're getting closer to being able to accurately simulate the exact process at work, but a full explanation may still be years away.

'Its occurrence after several decades also confirms our previous calculations'. They are known as "polynyas" and traditionally form near coasts in polar regions.

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It's larger than The Netherlands, and almost the size of Lake Superior. According to Moore, the hole is a result of other processes that aren't understood yet.

'The Southern Ocean is strongly stratified, ' says Professor Dr Mojib Latif, head of the Research Division at GEOMAR.

The current best guess is that warmer salt water from deep under the ice has managed to squeeze its way through the cold layer of fresh water that typically insulates it, causing a warm patch and ultimately melting the ice and forming a huge gap.

Simulated temperature development in the area of the polynya is illustrated above.

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

Researchers from the Princeton-based Southern Ocean Carbon and Climate Observations and Modelling (SOCCOM) group are conducting a study of the polynya that seeks to answer numerous questions.

"Global warming is not a linear process and happens on top of internal variability inherent to the climate system".

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

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