Hole The Size Of Maine Opens In Antarctica Ice

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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.

"In the depths of winter, for more than a month, we've had this area of open water", says Kent Moore, professor of physics at the University of Toronto.

Some 40 years after satellites observed a wintertime gap in the ice of the Weddell Sea near the Antarctic Peninsula, the phenomenon has returned; and it comprises an area larger than Maryland. "If there were earlier occurrences, there is no record of them", said Willy Weeks, a retired sea ice geophysicist from the University of Alaska in Fairbanks, while commenting at the time of the polynya's re-emergence in 2016. He added that the polynya could stay open as the colder water reaches the bottom of the ocean and pushes warmer water to the surface.

Although it's safe to assume that this massive hole in sea ice is connected to the climate change, however, that may not be the case.

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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.

'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'.

It's larger than The Netherlands, and almost the size of Lake Superior. "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.

One of the biggest reason as to why this polynya remains so mysterious is that it's quite hard to explore such areas.

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Usually, a very cold but fresh layer of water covers a warmer and saltier layer of water, acting as insulation. The polynya is the dark region of open water within the ice pack. They appeared in Antarctica in the 1970s, but disappeared for decades before reopening last year for a brief period and again this year. But scientists are denying to conclude that this has happened due to global warming.

Scientific reference: Mojib Latif et al, Southern Ocean Decadal Variability and Predictability, Current Climate Change Reports (2017).

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

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