Massive Hole Has Opened Up In Antarctica’s Ice

Posted: Oct 13 2017, 2:30pm CDT | by , in News | Latest Science News

 
Massive Hole has Opened up in Antarctica’s Ice
Aerial view of the polynya in the Antarctic Ocean. Credit: Jan Lieser, ACE CRC, Australia

This is the biggest hole or polynya observed in Antarctica’s Weddell Sea since the 1970s

A mysterious hole as large as the state of Maine has opened up in Antarctica’s sea ice cover and it is baffling researchers.

Antarctica is going through winter season these days. At this time of year, the region is usually covered with thick layer of sea ice. Despite freezing temperatures, a massive ice free area has just emerged in the middle of the ice cover and it is detected by a satellite.

However, such kind of holes are not totally new to science. These openings are known as polynya and are often linked to natural climate variability. They typically occur along the seashore, but an hole of this magnitude in open sea is an extreme rarity. The last time this kind of large ice-free area in the Weddell Sea of the Antarctic Peninsula was observed in mid 1970s. Now 40 years later, the phenomenon has shown up again and researchers believe this isolated opening in the sea ice can have significant implications for global climate.

“In the depths of winter, for more than a month, we’ve had this area of open water.” Kent Moore, professor of physics at the University of Toronto told National Geographic. “It’s just remarkable that this polynya went away for 40 years and then came back.”

The hole is covering an area of around 30,000 square miles. This is the second year in a row that a polynya has formed, although last year’s hole was not as large. A polynya occurs when warm water mixes with cold surface waters and allows the atmosphere and ocean to exchange heat, momentum and moisture, leading to significant changes in climate. The causes and effects of polynya have also been explained in several publications in recent years.

“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," Prof. Dr. Mojib Latif, head of the Research Division at GEOMAR. Without the insulating effect of sea ice cover, warm water can reach the surface and melt the ice, thus preventing new ice from forming.

However, the harsh winter conditions in Antarctica are making it difficult for the researchers to directly observe polynyas and their impacts on the atmosphere. Still this year’s hole can offer important data which we can be used to validate climate models.”

“We are always trying to compare the simulations with real phenomena to improve the models. Unfortunately, many data series are too short to evaluate the simulated climate variability with periods of several decades,” said co researcher Dr. Annika Reintges. “We therefore also compare the models with each other.”

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Hira Bashir covers daily affairs around the world.

 

 

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