A huge hole almost the size of the state of ME has opened up in the thick sea ice blanketing Antarctica's Weddell Sea. It reportedly looks like someone, or thing, simply punched a hole in the ice. University of Toronto Mississauga professor Kent Moore told Motherboard that the hole is "quite remarkable", but scientists still can't figure out how or why that it has happened again.
Scientists have been tracking large-scale changes in the Antarctic ice sheet in recent decades, but these changes are usually the result of known processes. But in this case we are talking about hundreds of kilometers separating the hole from a line in section.
Back in 1970s, a polynia was seen at the same location in Antarctica's Weddell Sea but since observation tools that the scientists had were not as good at that time as they are now, that hole could not be analyzed. 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.
Working with the Princeton-based Southern Ocean Carbon and Climate Observations and Modelling (SOCCOM) group, Moore and his colleagues are using observations from deep-sea robots and satellites to study the phenomenon, which in the 1970s was first detected on the same site. Then it wasn't seen for four decades, reopened for a few weeks previous year and has emerged yet again.
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.
This is the second year in a row in which the reported polynia hole has opened in Antarctica, "the second year in a row it's opened after 40 years of not being there", according to Moore.
The unusual hole measured 80,000 km at its peak, and it will have a significant impact on the oceans by driving convection.
Researchers from the Princeton-based Southern Ocean Carbon and Climate Observations and Modelling (SOCCOM) group are conducting a study of the polynya that seeks to answer numerous questions. The melting of sea ice causes a localized temperature contrast between the ocean and atmosphere, which drives a convection current.
While Moore warns that it's too soon to blame global warming, other scientists note the differences between climate change caused by human activities and natural changes to the climate system.
Many will suspect this has something to do with climate change, which is the main culprit for numerous sea ice changes in Antarctica. He added that the polynya could stay open as the colder water reaches the bottom of the ocean and pushes warmer water to the surface.