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A Hole the Size of Maine Just Opened in Antartica's Sea Ice

A Hole the Size of Maine Just Opened in Antartica's Sea Ice

"It looks like you just punched a hole in the ice", Kent Moore, a professor of physics at the University of Toronto, told Motherboard.

"While smaller and shorter-lived than the 1970s Weddell polynya, it's still an unusual and important phenomenon", Alek Petty, a sea ice scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, said in 2016 when the polynya appeared.

However, this is not the first time that this particular hole has emerged in Antarctica.

In this satellite image of the Weddell Sea polynya taken on September 21, 2017, blue represents the ice's edge.

What makes the polynya in Antarctica's Weddell Sea interesting for scientists is that it is deep in the ice pack. Last month, one of these floats surfaced inside the Weddell Sea polynya, making contact with researchers and providing unique data on its existence.

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Since the hole continually exposes the water to the atmosphere above, it is hard for new ice layers to form. This nearly twice the size of the Netherlands and marginally smaller than Ireland.

Some scientists speculate that the formation of the Weddell polynya is part of a cyclical process, though the details are unclear.

As these ice gaps typically form in coastal regions, however, the appearance of a polynya "deep in the ice pack" is an unusual occurrence. & Gnanadesikan, A. Global atmospheric teleconnections and multidecadal climate oscillations driven by Southern Ocean convection. "A very cold but relatively fresh water layer covers a much warmer and saltier water mass, thus acting as an insulating layer", Prof. "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", said Prof.

Simulated temperature development in the area of the polynya is illustrated above. Polynyas are a region of open water surrounded by sea ice.

The going theory on what caused it has to do with water currents and a flow of warmer water rising up and melting the ice. 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. "The better we understand these natural processes, the better we can identify the anthropogenic impact on the climate system", Latif said.