A huge hole almost the size of the state of ME has opened up in the thick sea ice blanketing Antarctica's Weddell Sea.
The hole was discovered by researchers about a month ago. "In the depths of winter, for more than a month, we've had this area of open water", Kent Moore, an atmospheric scientist at the University of Toronto, told National Geographic.
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. 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 past year. However, previous other studies which applied the "Kiel Climate Model" found that polynya is part of a long-term naturally varying process, which can only mean the hole will open again sooner or later.
A "polynya" is a large ice-free area that develops in an otherwise frozen sea, and this particular formation is situated in the Weddell Sea, east of the Antarctic Peninsula.
Areas of open water enveloped by ice, such as this hole are known as polynias and are formed in the coastal areas of Antarctica.
The latest technology allows them to study the polynya even if their access to the site itself in the Southern Ocean is insufficient.
Scientists believe the polynya is formed because of the deep water in the Southern Ocean being warmer and saltier than the surface water. That melting created the polynya. When the warmer water cools, on contact with the frigid temperatures in the atmosphere, it sinks.
Blaming climate change for this giant hole is one alternative that the scientists have but according to Moore, that would be a premature thing. He thinks it is likely that marine mammals could be using this new opening to breathe.
"At that time, the scientific community had just launched the first satellites that provided images of the sea-ice cover from space", said Torge Martin, a meteorologist and climate modeler, as quoted by Phys.org."The better we understand these natural processes, the better we can identify the anthropogenic impact on the climate system", said Professor Latif.
Sea ice and clouds blanket the Weddell Sea around Antarctica in this satellite image from September 25, 2017. The polynya is the dark region of open water within the ice pack.