Tags: antartica | giant hole | polynya | opened up | in ice

Researchers Wonder Why a Giant Hole Keeps Opening Up in Antarctica

Image: Researchers Wonder Why a Giant Hole Keeps Opening Up in Antarctica
A section of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet with mountains  (Mario Tama/Getty Images)

By    |   Wednesday, 11 Oct 2017 10:19 PM

A massive hole called a polynya opened in Antarctica’s Weddell Sea last month, a strange occurrence as polynyas typically don’t develop deep in the ice pack, Motherboard reports.

“It looks like you just punched a hole in the ice,” atmospheric physicist Kent Moore, a professor at the University of Toronto Mississauga, explained.

A larger version of the hole was observed in satellite observations in the same area of Antarctica in 1974, and it reopened last year for a few weeks. At its peak, the Weddell Polynya measured 31,000 square miles, which is larger than the Netherlands and nearly the size of the state of Maine.

"This is now 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."

A polynya typically forms farther offshore, driven by the upwelling of warm water according to NASA.

“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. “It allows a significant amount of heat to escape to the winter atmosphere, where air temperatures are thought to hover around minus 20 degrees Celsius.”

Researchers are monitoring the polynya, including a group at the GEOMAR Helmholtz Center for Ocean Research Kiel, and the Southern Ocean Carbon and Climate Observations and Modelling group based at Princeton University.

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A massive hole called a polynya opened in Antarctica's Weddell Sea last month, a strange occurrence as polynyas typically don't develop deep in the ice pack, Motherboard reports.
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Wednesday, 11 Oct 2017 10:19 PM
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