Scientists Baffled By Recurring Hole In Antarctica

Mindy Sparks
October 12, 2017

The unusual ice-free area was first spotted in the 1970s in the midst of the harsh Antarctic winter, despite frigid temperatures - and now, 40 years after it closed, the so-called Weddell Polynya has returned.

Blaming climate change for this giant hole is one alternative that the scientists have but according to Moore, that would be a premature thing. This isn't the first time it's been spotted, having appeared previous year for a brief period as well, and long before that it was detected back in the 1970s. That's a fairly straightforward explanation, but it doesn't fully address the odd timing of the hole, including its 40-year absence and seemingly spontaneous rebirth.

Back in 1970s, a polynia was seen at the same location in Antarctica's Weddell Sea but since observation tools that the scientists had were not as good at that time as they are now, that hole could not be analyzed.

At its peak, the Weddell Polynya measured a staggering 80,000 square kilometers (roughly 31,000 square miles). The Weddell Sea polynya itself could force more changes in the ice, though. Polynyas are commonly found in coastal regions of Antarctica, but this hole is far from the edge of the ice pack where the ice is much thicker, and it's the middle of winter in Antarctica. Speaking to Motherboard, professor of atmospheric physics Kent Moore with the University of Toronto called the massive hole "quite remarkable", like someone "punched a hole in the ice". The 2017 polynya, which is larger than the Netherlands and opened in early September, marks "the second year in a row it's opened after 40 years of not being there", Moore said.

'We're still trying to figure out what's going on'.

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

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

'The Southern Ocean is strongly stratified, ' says Professor Dr Mojib Latif, head of the Research Division at GEOMAR. As a result, warmer water rises to the surface.

Still, it's unclear how often the Weddell Polynya re-emerges, and how long it will linger now that it's opened back up. Now that it is back, scientists have more sophisticated resources that enable them to improve their observations.

Many will suspect this has something to do with climate change, which is the main culprit for numerous sea ice changes in Antarctica.

'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", Moore told National Geographic.

Other reports by Iphone Fresh

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