Near Antarctica, 40 Years After first Sighting, a Huge Polynya Re-Opens

Near Antarctica, 40 Years After first Sighting, a Huge Polynya Re-Opens

Named as a "polynya", this is usually found in coastal regions of Antarctica, but this hole is far from the edge where the ice is much thicker.

Many climate scientists thought that, based on their theories of climate change, the formation of this deep-sea polynya would not form again in the Antarctic.

While its reappearance has spurred some questions, the experts say the processes driving it are relatively well- understood. "Its recurrence supports our hypothesis... that the Weddell Polynya was not a one-time event but possibly occurred regularly in the past". Last month, SOCCOM scientists were astonished to discover that a float in the Weddell Sea had surfaced inside the polynya, making contact with satellites in the dead of winter. Such ice-free areas are called 'polynya' (Russian) by polar scientists.

Forty years after the first observation of the polynia in the sea, the Weddell did not open, and now it is the second year in a row that has opened.

"The fact that now a large, ice-free area can be observed in the Weddell Sea confirms our theory and gives us another data point for further model studies", said Dr. Torge Martin, meteorologist and climate modeler at GEOMAR. This nearly twice the size of the Netherlands and marginally smaller than Ireland.

Scientists believe the polynya is formed because of the deep water in the Southern Ocean being warmer and saltier than the surface water.

"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", Lati added.

"The Southern Ocean is strongly stratified".

Simulated temperature development in the area of the polynya is illustrated above. This year it opened on the 9th of September.

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

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.

As scientists continue to hone their climate models and flawless their predictions, they're getting closer to being able to accurately simulate the exact process at work, but a full explanation may still be years away.

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