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Giant hole the size of ME reopens in Antarctica's Weddell Sea

12 October 2017

Moore also warned against "prematurely" blaming the formation of the hole on climate change.

Moore told Vice: "It looks like you just punched a hole in the ice".

At its largest the polynya measured 80,000 kilometres - making it larger than the Netherlands and roughly the same size as the US state of Maine.

Such areas of open ocean water in the midst of ice are called "polynya", and are usually found in warm coastal areas.

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"To our great surprise, it came back this year even larger than last year", Moore said. The team, comprised of scientists from the University of Toronto and the Southern Ocean Carbon and Climate Observations and Modelling (SOCCOM) project, was monitoring the area with satellite technology after a similar hole opened previous year.

A smaller polynya was observed in the same area in the 1970s but the exact sale of that fissure was not recorded. The Weddell Sea polynya is like "an oasis" for Antarctic sea mammals, says scientist Kent Moore. "So something's going on, but we just don't have enough data yet to really pin it down".

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. Some American scientists think that this polynya will never re-appear, as melting ice and more precipitation in the air separates the surface ice sheet from deeper layers of water.

Professor Mojib Latif explained to that this process leads to extra heat being released to the atmosphere for several winters in a row until the heat reservoir reaches the highest levels.

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'For us this ice-free area is an important data point which we can use to validate our climate models, ' says Dr Torge Martin, meteorologist and climate modeller in the GEOMAR Research Division 'Oceans Circulation and Climate Dynamics'. According to NASA, that sinking water contributes to the cold water mass, known as Antarctic Bottom Water, which feeds into deep ocean currents and contributes to ocean circulation around the globe.

Simulated temperature development in the area of the polynya is illustrated above.

The polynya went away for forty years and reopened in September 2016 for a few weeks.

"Global warming is not a linear process and happens on top of internal variability inherent to the climate system".

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'The better we understand these natural processes, the better we can identify the anthropogenic impact on the climate system'.

Giant hole the size of ME reopens in Antarctica's Weddell Sea