Giant Hole in Antarctica Remains Unexplained

A giant hole has opened up in Antarctica. Motherboard

This means that whatever is causing it has some sort of repetitive nature, which could help scientists uncover what is happening. But the Weddell polynya is unlike any other.

NASA's Aqua satellite captured this image of a polynya off the coast of Antarctica, near Ross Island and McMurdo Station on November 16, 2011.

Researchers, including a group at the GEOMAR Helmholtz Center for Ocean Research Kiel, have been closely monitoring the polynya since it first reappeared in the satellite data. The polynya was observed in the same region in the 1970's, then disappeared and appeared on a few weeks back previous year.

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This is the second year in a row that scientists have seen such a massive hole in Antarctica's sea ice, though this one is bigger than the one from last year. In case of this giant hole, it is unusual that it has formed "deep in the ice pack".

The holes form in coastal regions of Antarctica, but what's unusal here is that this polynya is "deep in the ice pack", Moore says. But this polynya's reappearance is a mystery to scientists. In certain conditions, however, the warm water can rise to the surface, melting the ice.

The Southern Ocean of Antarctica has very deep waters which is warmer and saltier than the surface water. Dr. Mojib Latif, head of the Research Division at GEOMAR, told the site. "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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Will it close up again for another 40 years?

And if scientists do figure out what is causing this particular polynia, it will shed some light on how Antarctica will change over the next few years.

"We are always trying to compare the simulations with real phenomena to improve the models". The cold surface layer is shown in blue, with warm water indicataed in red. The study of the giant hole will allow researchers to validate their climate models, Moore said. The hole opened up again a year ago for the first time in four decades, and reappeared, even larger, last month.

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"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".

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