Hole in Antarctic Sea Ice Confounds Scientists

Hole in Antarctic Sea Ice Confounds Scientists

"At that time, the scientific community had just launched the first satellites that provided images of the sea-ice cover from space", Dr Torge Martin of the GEOMAR Research Division explains of its initial discovery many decades ago. A more thorough and prolonged research would reveal the real reason behind the huge hole. A robotic float, which was sent there for transmitting data from the Weddell Sea surprisingly surfaced inside the polynya last month, stated a news release from the Southern Ocean Carbon and Climate Observations and Modeling project at Princeton.

A polynya in the same area was also observed here in the 1970s but observation tools then were not almost as good as the ones available today, so the hole was largely unstudied.

"If we didn't have a satellite, we wouldn't know it was there", Moore told Motherboard, adding it looks like someone "punched a hole" through the ice. Did the Weddell polynya occur before 1970, and we are looking at a periodic process that shows itself about every 40 years? This means that whatever is causing it has some sort of repetitive nature, which could help scientists uncover what is happening.

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

The Southern Ocean of Antarctica has very deep waters which is warmer and saltier than the surface water. That melting created the polynya.

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

The warm water cools when it reaches the air, then sinks to the bottom and reheats. The study of the giant hole will allow researchers to validate their climate models, Moore said. He thinks it is likely that marine mammals could be using this new opening to breathe.

Climate change, which is impacting Antarctica and the rest of the world, is possibly responsible for this mysterious hole, but Moore said that blaming global warming for this phenomenon is premature. "The better we understand these natural processes, the better we can identify the anthropogenic impact on the climate system", said Professor Latif.

Areas of open water enveloped by ice, such as this hole are known as polynias and are formed in the coastal areas of Antarctica.

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