Published: Thu, October 12, 2017
Research | By Jo Caldwell

Hole The Size Of Maine Opens In Antarctica Ice

Hole The Size Of Maine Opens In Antarctica Ice

A giant hole as large as the state of ME has opened up in Antarctica's Weddell Sea for the second year in a row, confusing scientists due to its unusual characteristics.

A giant hole has opened up in Antarctica.

Known as a polynya, this year's hole was about 30,000 square miles at its largest, making it the biggest polynya observed in Antarctica's Weddell Sea since the 1970s.

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

It's not clear at this point if the ice hole is influenced in any way by climate change. Ocean currents bring the warmer water upwards, where it melts the blankets of ice that had formed on the ocean's surface. Now polynya opened again on 9 September.

Kent Moore, an atmospheric physicist at the University of Toronto Mississauga, said that it is just like imagining that someone is in the middle of the Antarctic winter and he or she can see huge sea ice stretched as far as possible and suddenly while walking along, the person comes across this huge expanse of open water.

"This is now the second year in a row it's opened after 40 years of not being there", Moore said, adding that scientists were still trying to determine "what's going on".

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

The deep water in that part of the Southern Ocean is warmer and saltier than the surface water.

'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'.

One of the biggest reason as to why this polynya remains so mysterious is that it's quite hard to explore such areas. The polynya was observed in the same region in the 1970's, then disappeared and appeared on a few weeks back past year.

The latest hole is way bigger than the last discovered and was spotted by scientists from the University of Toronto and the Southern Ocean Carbon and Climate Observations and Modeling (SOCCOM) group. But scientists are denying to conclude that this has happened due to global warming.

Experts say it's too early to know how climate change has affected the formation of the huge polynya, if it's to blame at all.

'The better we understand these natural processes, the better we can identify the anthropogenic impact on the climate system'.

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