Science

Massive mysterious hole, 80000 sq km in size, spotted in Antarctica

Massive mysterious hole, 80000 sq km in size, spotted in Antarctica

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. 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. 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 the largest polynya to open in the Weddell Sea since the 1970s.

Polynyas usually form in Antarctica's coastal and scientists are trying to figure out why this one is so "deep in the ice pack", as atmospheric physicist Kent Moore told Motherboard.

The cooling of the warmer ocean water when it reaches the surface may also have a broader impact on the ocean's temperature, but Moore says outside of local weather effects, scientists aren't sure what this polynya will mean for Antarctica's oceans and climate, and whether it is related to climate change. He added that this polynya is deep in the ice pack and it is a couple of hundreds of kilometers away from the coast.

'This is now the second year in a row it's opened after 40 years of not being there, ' Moore explained.

'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'. This might have resulted from the fact that the ocean currents lift the warmer waters from the ocean's depth up to the surface and thus the ice melts and ends up in making a huge hole.




One of the biggest reason as to why this polynya remains so mysterious is that it's quite hard to explore such areas.

Researchers are monitoring the polynya, including a group at the GEOMAR Helmholtz Center for Ocean Research Kiel, and the Southern Ocean Carbon and Climate Observations and Modelling group based at Princeton University. A more thorough and prolonged research would reveal the real reason behind the huge hole.

The Weddell Sea polynya went away for four decades, until it reopened past year for a few weeks. But scientists are denying to conclude that this has happened due to global warming.

What is not fully known, however, is how climate change might affect this process. "We don't really understand the long-term impacts this polynya will have".


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