World News

Massive hole reopens in Antarctic sea ice

Massive hole reopens in Antarctic sea ice

"This is now the second year in a row it's opened after 40 years of not being there", Moore said.

The hole, which is known as a polynya, is about 80,000 square kilometres at its largest, making it the biggest polynya observed in Antarctica's Weddell Sea since the 1970s. In case of this giant hole, it is unusual that it has formed "deep in the ice pack".

The polynyas are an area of open water in an ice-covered pond, on all sides it is surrounded by ice.

The Southern Ocean has a fairly layered structure, and above the layer of warmer and salt water is a layer of cold and relatively fresh water. Moore said that this giant hole has been open for four months so far and he guessed that it would stay open for rest of the winter. Since during the first observation the scientists did not have the opportunity to study it, it remains unclear why it appears and how it disappears. In certain conditions, however, the warm water can rise to the surface, melting the ice. "On-site measurements in the Southern Ocean still require enormous efforts, so they are quite limited".

Polynyas are geographical areas of unfrozen sea within the ice pack. "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", Latif said.

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The big questions right now are how often such polynya occur and whether or not climate change is amplifying their formation. In addition, scientists hope that in the near future it will be possible to simulate such a system with the help of computer simulation. 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.

Although it's safe to assume that this massive hole in sea ice is connected to the climate change, however, that may not be the case.

"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.

As scientists continue to hone their climate models and flawless their predictions, they're getting closer to being able to accurately simulate the exact process at work, but a full explanation may still be years away.


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