SOCCOM float surfaces inside rare Antarctic sea ice opening | SOCCOM - SOCCOM

SOCCOM float surfaces inside rare Antarctic sea ice opening | SOCCOM - SOCCOM

A mysterious hole the size of ME has opened up in Antarctica, stumping scientists who have no clue how it formed. Kent Moore, an atmospheric physicist and a professor at the University of Toronto's Mississauga campus, says that it looks like a hole punched in the ice. The team, comprised of scientists from the University of Toronto and the Southern Ocean Carbon and Climate Observations and Modelling (SOCCOM) project, was monitoring the area with satellite technology after a similar hole opened a year ago.

A "polynya" is a large ice-free area that develops in an otherwise frozen sea, and this particular formation is situated in the Weddell Sea, east of the Antarctic Peninsula.

Such areas of open ocean water in the midst of ice are called "polynya", and are usually found in warm coastal areas.

At its largest the polynya measured 80,000 kilometres - making it larger than the Netherlands and roughly the same size as the US state of Maine.

Scientists weren't expecting the polynya to re-appear, and aren't sure why it has resurfaced twice in the past two years. In certain conditions, however, the warm water can rise to the surface, melting the ice. 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.

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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.

Since the hole continually exposes the water to the atmosphere above, it is hard for new ice layers to form. He thinks it is likely that marine mammals could be using this new opening to breathe.

"While smaller and shorter-lived than the 1970s Weddell polynya, it's still an unusual and important phenomenon", Alek Petty, a sea ice scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, said in 2016 when the polynya appeared.

"We don't really understand the long-term impacts this polynya will have", he says.

Sea ice and clouds blanket the Weddell Sea around Antarctica in this satellite image from September 25, 2017. Known by the Russian word polynya, the area surrounded by solid sea ice is hundreds of kilometers from the ice edge and researchers based at Princeton University were able to identify it thanks to satellite images. The polynya is the dark region of open water within the ice pack.

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