Known as polynyas or semipermanent area of open water in sea ice, this Weddell polynya is quite mysterious in terms of its origin.
The global warming phenomenon is also in play but scientists aren't sure what this polynya will mean for Antarctica's oceans and climate, and whether climate change effects it at all.
The Southern Ocean has a fairly layered structure, and above the layer of warmer and salt water is a layer of cold and relatively fresh water. 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". Now, a massive hole the size of Lake Superior has appeared many miles inland from where the ice meets the ocean, and scientists have little concrete explanation as to why it's there. According to reports, satellite images helped spot this unexpected formation, which is believed to be around a month old, possibly more. This gaping polynya, which measures an area equivalent to the Netherlands, opened right in the middle of a sea which would have otherwise been completely covered in thick ice.
Sometimes, the layer of warm water can then melt the ice. That melting created the polynya. When the warmer water cools, on contact with the frigid temperatures in the atmosphere, it sinks.
A polynya allows heat to escape the ocean, cooling the top layer of the sea water. Moore says it would be "premature" to connect it to climate change, though his team is analyzing data to better understand what could have caused this. He thinks it is likely that marine mammals could be using this new opening to breathe. Intriguingly, this polynya is located extremely far from the sea ice coastline, where these kinds of openings usually appear.
"It's hundreds of kilometers from the ice edge".
"We are always trying to compare the simulations with real phenomena to improve the models".
At its largest extent, this winter's polynya had an area of open water close to 80,000 square kilometres (km2), he said.
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