A Huge Hole Has Opened Up in Antartica--What's Going On?

Khryss | Published 2017-10-24 09:33

Still figuring it out, folks.

A gigantic, mysterious has opened up in Antarctica's Weddell Sea, a "quite remarkable" phenomenon according to atmospheric physicist Kent Moore, a professor at the University of Toronto's Mississauga campus."It looks like you just punched a hole in the ice."

This area--an open water surrounded by sea ice--is called polynias. But while these normally form in coastal regions of Antarctica, this one is said to be "deep in the ice pack" which just basically means scientists are still not sure why it's there.

"This is hundreds of kilometres from the ice edge. If we didn't have a satellite, we wouldn't know it was there." (It measured 80,000 k㎡ at its peak.)

According to Moore, this isn't the first time a polynia was observed in the same location. One has already been there in the 1970s but has remained unstudied due to lack of tools, until it went away for four decades. So, this is pretty much a reopening.

"This is now the second year in a row it's opened (it also briefly opened last year) after 40 years of not being there," Moore said. "We're still trying to figure out what's going on." And while climate change may be the first culprit, Moore said that's still "premature." However, scientist can confidently say that this will greatly affect oceans.

"Once the sea ice melts back, you have this huge temperature contrast between the ocean and the atmosphere," Moore explained. "It can start driving convection." Warm water rises up to the surface while denser, colder ones sinks to the bottom "which can keep the polynia open once it starts," he said.

Thanks to our advancements, Moore and his collaborators can now use satellites and deep sea robots to possibly answer these mystifying questions. "Compared to 40 years ago, the amount of data we have is amazing," he said.

I just hope, though, this isn't bad news.


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