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Scientists Baffled By Recurring Hole In Antarctica

12 October 2017

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. They are known as "polynyas" and traditionally form near coasts in polar regions. 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. "If we didn't have a satellite, we wouldn't know it was there".

According to VICE, a polynya occurred in the same location in 1970s.

A massive hole called a polynya opened in Antarctica's Weddell Sea last month, a unusual occurrence as polynyas typically don't develop deep in the ice pack, Motherboard reports.

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. Four decades passed before the hole opened up for a few weeks in 2016.

Understanding why such a enormous hole has suddenly opened up in Antarctica that is already undergoing huge changes will certainly play a key role in fathoming larger systems in action.

Usually, a very cold but fresh layer of water covers a warmer and saltier layer of water, acting as insulation.

"This is like opening a pressure relief valve", Latif said. In certain conditions, however, the warm water can rise to the surface, melting the ice.

The latest technology allows them to study the polynya even if their access to the site itself in the Southern Ocean is insufficient. "The ocean then releases a surplus of heat to the atmosphere for several consecutive winters until the heat reservoir is exhausted". Instead, the Weddel Polynya can be pinned to water stratification in the Southern Ocean, according to scientists at the GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research who closely following its development.

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. Although there is still much left to study, the appearance of the hole confirms the Kiel Climate Model's applicability to future research investigating the natural and human processes driving this phenomenon.

"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.

Scientists Baffled By Recurring Hole In Antarctica