A Hole the Size of Maine Just Opened in Antartica's Sea Ice
14 October, 2017, 00:35 | Author: Brian Mcdaniel
The hole, known as a polynya, is a unusual phenomenon where a region of open water shows up in the middle of the sea ice in the Arctic and Southern Oceans.
The hole has an area of approximately 80,000 square kilometers (30,000 square miles), and is as large as Lake Superior, the largest of the Great Lakes of North America, or the state of Maine. It's the largest polynya to open in the Weddell Sea since the 1970s. If it were not for the satellite, we would not have found out that it is there, "said physicist Kent Moore, professor at the University of Toronto". This is the second year in a row that a polynya has formed, although last year's hole was not as large.
Usually, a very cold but fresh layer of water covers a warmer and saltier layer of water, acting as insulation.
A team that includes researchers from the University of Toronto and the Southern Ocean Carbon and Climate Observations and Modelling (SOCCOM) group at Princeton University are monitoring the area with satellite technology and using robotic floats that are capable of operating under sea ice to finally shed some light on the polynya and their impact on the climate. Ocean currents bring the warmer water upwards, where it melts the blankets of ice that had formed on the ocean's surface. Scientists aren't sure how it got there.
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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.
Since the hole continually exposes the water to the atmosphere above, it is hard for new ice layers to form. As the surface water comes into contact with the Antarctic atmosphere, it cools and sinks, then heats up again and rises back toward the surface. Compared to the last time this happened 40 years ago, scientists have far more data on their hands.
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