A Maine-Sized Hole Has Opened up in Antarctica's Ice Blanket

A Maine-Sized Hole Has Opened up in Antarctica's Ice Blanket

A Maine-Sized Hole Has Opened up in Antarctica's Ice Blanket

A mysterious "hole" larger than Maryland has reappeared in the middle of Antarctica after 42 years.

Many climate scientists thought that, based on their theories of climate change, the formation of this deep-sea polynya would not form again in the Antarctic.

"Why was the Weddell polynya present in the 1970s, and then absent until its recent reappearance?" It was the first sighting of the polynya in over 40 years.

Polynyas are geographical areas of unfrozen sea within the ice pack.

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

The opening is called a polynya, a term that defines open water surrounded by ice. Atmospheric physicist Kent Moore, from the University of Toronto, said that it must have formed through other processes that are not well understood.

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Will it close up again for another 40 years? Moore said that this giant hole has been open for four months so far and he guessed that it would stay open for rest of the winter. According to satellite imagery, it appeared in the same place as it did forty years ago.

'For us this ice-free area is an important data point which we can use to validate our climate models, ' says Dr Torge Martin, meteorologist and climate modeller in the GEOMAR Research Division 'Oceans Circulation and Climate Dynamics'. This nearly twice the size of the Netherlands and marginally smaller than Ireland. An enormous hole in Antarctica's sea ice could help solve a climate riddle. "On-site measurements in the Southern Ocean still require enormous efforts, so they are quite limited".

'A very cold but relatively fresh water layer covers a much warmer and saltier water mass, thus acting as an insulating layer.

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

The going theory on what caused it has to do with water currents and a flow of warmer water rising up and melting the ice. The polynya is the dark region of open water within the ice pack. Now that it is back, scientists have more sophisticated resources that enable them to improve their observations.

'Global warming is not a linear process and happens on top of internal variability inherent to the climate system, ' Latif says. "We don't really understand the long-term impacts this polynya will have".

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