A mysterious hole larger than the Netherlands has opened in the middle of Antarctic ice

Quartz | 9/25/2017 | Zoë Schlanger
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A hole the size of Maine—or larger than the Netherlands, depending on which geographic mass means more to you—has opened up in the Weddell Sea in Antarctica. In an otherwise thick layer of sea ice, still frozen from the Antarctic winter, the hole is an aberration.

Ice scientists aren’t sure what’s going on, but they’re all talking about it.

Hole - Ice - Physicist - Kent - Moore

“It looks like you just punched a hole in the ice,” atmospheric physicist Kent Moore, of the University of Toronto, told Vice’s Motherboard.

Moore, along with the Southern Ocean Carbon and Climate Observations and Modelling (SOCCOM) group at Princeton, are studying the mysterious hole, which showed up in satellite images around Sept. 9.

Scientists - Holes - Sea - Ice - National

Scientists call holes surrounded by sea ice “polynyas.” National Geographic explains that polynas are created when ocean currents push warm water toward the surface, melting the ice that lies on top. 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.

This particular polynya previously appeared for multiple seasons in the 1970s. The hole opened up again last year for the first time in four decades, and reappeared, even larger, last month.

Hole - Mystery - Moore - Change - Team

Right now, why the hole opened again is a mystery. 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.

“This is now the second year in a row it’s opened after 40 years of not being there,” Moore told Motherboard. “We’re still trying to figure out what’s going on.”

Earther

But Earther notes that another...
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