Published: Thu, October 12, 2017
Science | By Hubert Green

Mystery hole found in Antarctica's ice cover as big as West Bengal

Mystery hole found in Antarctica's ice cover as big as West Bengal

Aerial view of the Weddell polynya. This is the second year that a polynya formed, though last year's hole was not as big.

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.

These holes in the ice sheets are known as "polynya".

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. The polynya re-emerged at the same point in Antarctica again in August 2016, significantly smaller in size than what it was in the 1970s. This gaping polynya, which measures an area equivalent to the Netherlands, opened right in the middle of a sea which would have otherwise been completely covered in thick ice.

Moore told Vice: "It looks like you just punched a hole in the ice".

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

"At that time, the scientific community had just launched the first satellites that provided images of the sea-ice cover from space", said Torge Martin, a meteorologist and climate modeler, as quoted by Phys.org.
As per the report, the largest estimates of the hole's current size put it around 80,000 square kilometers.

While its reappearance has spurred some questions, the experts say the processes driving it are relatively well- understood. 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.

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.

One of the biggest reason as to why this polynya remains so mysterious is that it's quite hard to explore such areas. The cold surface layer is shown in blue, with warm water indicataed in red. The polynya was observed in the same region in the 1970's, then disappeared and appeared on a few weeks back previous year. The study of the giant hole will allow researchers to validate their climate models, Moore said.

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

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

Like this: