Massive Hole Has Opened Up in Antarctica

Scientists can't explain why a giant hole the size of Maine just opened up in Antarctica

A Giant Mysterious Hole Has Emerged In Antarctica And Scientists Still Don't Know The Reason

A giant hole has opened up in Antarctica and scientists can't explain why.

The Weddell Sea polynya is shown as it appeared in passive microwave satellite imagery in the 1970s. Experts believe that the Weddell polynya might a part of some cyclical process but they lack clear details.

At its peak, the Weddell Polynya measured a staggering 80,000 square kilometers (roughly 31,000 square miles). 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.

Actually, this type of phenomena can be termed as polynya- an area of open water completely enclosed by sea ice.

The holes form in coastal regions of Antarctica, but what's unusal here is that this polynya is "deep in the ice pack", Moore says.

"You could imagine you're in the middle of the Antarctic winter and essentially there's sea ice as far as you can see and then, suddenly, if you're walking along, you come across this huge expanse of open water", Kent Moore, an atmospheric physicist at the University of Toronto Mississauga, told As It Happens host Carol Off.

"This is now the second year in a row it's opened after 40 years of not being there", Moore said. "So something's going on, but we just don't have enough data yet to really pin it down".

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Researchers say that with new ocean measurements, the space-based images and climate models, they're hoping to finally unravel the polynyas' secrets and their impacts on the climate.

Studies led by the Kiel team previously suggested the feature was a long-term natural variability - meaning it would come back sooner or later. The warm water can keep the ice from reforming, but once it cools, it goes to the bottom, allowing the cycle to continue.

It's larger than The Netherlands, and almost the size of Lake Superior. According to Moore, the hole is a result of other processes that aren't understood yet. "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", said Prof.

Simulated temperature development in the area of the polynya is illustrated above. In certain conditions, however, the warm water can rise to the surface, melting the ice.

Still, it's unclear how often the Weddell Polynya re-emerges, and how long it will linger now that it's opened back up.

What is not fully known, however, is how climate change might affect this process. A more thorough and prolonged research would reveal the real reason behind the huge hole.

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