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

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

A mysterious hole as big as the state of ME has been spotted in Antarctica's winter sea ice cover. A more thorough and prolonged research would reveal the real reason behind the huge hole.

As these ice gaps typically form in coastal regions, however, the appearance of a polynya "deep in the ice pack" is an unusual occurrence, according to Motherboard.

"We are still trying to understand what is happening", said Kent Moore of the University of Toronto.

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

A larger version of the hole was observed in satellite observations in the same area of Antarctica in 1974, and it reopened previous year for a few weeks.

The blue curves represent the ice edge, and the polynya is the dark region of open water within the ice pack.

The harsh winter in Antarctica makes it hard to find holes like this one, so it can be difficult to study them.

The big questions right now are how often such polynya occur and whether or not climate change is amplifying their formation.

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Scientists weren't expecting the polynya to re-appear, and aren't sure why it has resurfaced twice in the past two years.

The current best guess is that warmer salt water from deep under the ice has managed to squeeze its way through the cold layer of fresh water that typically insulates it, causing a warm patch and ultimately melting the ice and forming a huge gap.

'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'. They appeared in Antarctica in the 1970s, but disappeared for decades before reopening last year for a brief period and again this year.

Although winter is in full swing right now in Antarctica, a large swath of water in the Weddell sea is ice-free.

Though Moore thinks marine animals could be using this hole to breathe, it is still unclear why it reopened after so many years, what long-term effect it could have on Antarctica's oceans and climate, or if it was triggered by climate change or any other process.

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.

'The better we understand these natural processes, the better we can identify the anthropogenic impact on the climate system'.

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