Researchers Wonder Why a Giant Hole Keeps Opening Up in Antarctica

12 October, 2017, 11:38 | Author: Darnell Taylor
  • A Giant Mysterious Hole Has Emerged In Antarctica And Scientists Still Don't Know The Reason

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. The study of the giant hole will allow researchers to validate their climate models, Moore said.

"We are still trying to understand what is happening", said Kent Moore of the University of Toronto.

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.

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

The Weddell Sea polynya went away for four decades, until it reopened a year ago for a few weeks. Scientists measured that the huge sea ice hole or polynya is nearly 80,000 square kilometers at its peak- a little bigger than New Brunswick and a bit smaller than the island of Newfoundland. The phenomenon was previously observed in the same location in the 1970s when satellite imaging was barely making its first baby steps. This is the second year that a polynya formed, though last year's hole was not as big.

Scientists weren't expecting the polynya to re-appear, and aren't sure why it has resurfaced twice in the past two years.

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Scientists believe the polynya is formed because of the deep water in the Southern Ocean being warmer and saltier than the surface water. That melting created the polynya. When the warmer water cools, on contact with the frigid temperatures in the atmosphere, it sinks.

Professor Mojib Latif explained to Phys.org that this process leads to extra heat being released to the atmosphere for several winters in a row until the heat reservoir reaches the highest levels. This isn't the first time it's been spotted, having appeared previous year for a brief period as well, and long before that it was detected back in the 1970s. He thinks it is likely that marine mammals could be using this new opening to breathe.

Blaming climate change for this giant hole is one alternative that the scientists have but according to Moore, that would be a premature thing.

A robotic float has been deployed to study the polynya's measurements, which lies hundreds of kilometers from the ice edge.

"We don't really understand the long-term impacts this polynya will have", he says. The polynya is the dark region of open water within the ice pack.

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