A huge hole has opened up in Antarctic ice pack, reason unknown

Violet Powell
October 13, 2017

Then it disappeared for 40 years, Moore said, only to reappear for three weeks in 2016.

An incredibly large area of ice has opened up in the Weddell Sea east of the Antarctic Peninsula, for the second time in 40 years.

"It looks like you just punched a hole in the ice".

A "polynya" is a large ice-free area that develops in an otherwise frozen sea; the features are commonly seen in both the Arctic and Antarctic sea ice.

Scientists believe the polynya is formed because of the deep water in the Southern Ocean being warmer and saltier than the surface water.

"In the depths of winter, for more than a month, we've had this area of open water", Moore said. 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. Now that it is back, scientists have more sophisticated resources that enable them to improve their observations.

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"When sea ice forms in polynyas or elsewhere, salt is expelled into the water, raising the salinity of the near-surface water". In addition, scientists hope that in the near future it will be possible to simulate such a system with the help of computer simulation.

"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", Lati added.

As massive changes are taking place in the Antarctica, finding the causes of the polynya's behavior will provide valuable information to understand better what's going on in the icy continent.

The blue curves represent the ice edge, and the polynya is the dark region of open water within the ice pack. Due to higher precipitation levels in the region and melting ice, the surface is expected to decouple from deeper water layers. Moore says it would be "premature" to connect it to climate change, though his team is analyzing data to better understand what could have caused this.

'Global warming is not a linear process and happens on top of internal variability inherent to the climate system, ' Latif says.

The good news is the satellites are much more powerful than they were in the '70s, so scientists should be able to collect much more data this time around.

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