Scientists May Have Discovered the Cause Behind the Mysterious Polynya in Antarctica

A massive hole resurfaced in the area known as The Weddell Polynya, or Weddell Sea Polynya, puzzling scientists.

The giant hole has a diameter of more than 20,000 square miles, and it is located in the uneven region of The Weddell Polynya, an open water area, encompassed by sea ice in the Weddell Sea of the Southern Ocean that encircles Antarctica.

This usually re-emerged every winter between 1974 and 1976, before being buried underneath the solid ice for what it seemed like forever. However, a team of NASA scientists was shocked when the Earth Observatory registered it once again after four decades of hiding.

Reappearing Mysteriously

The discovery was explained in 2017 when Tech Insider made a video about it and posted it on their YouTube channel: “There’s a mysterious giant hole in Antarctica, scientists aren’t sure how it got there, but this isn’t the first time it’s appeared.​”

The massive hole is a type of polynya, an area of open water encompassed by sea ice. However, the Weddell Polynya is quite unique because while the majority of polynyas reappear close to the shore, but this one has formed hundreds of kilometers from the coast.

Researchers first discovered it in 1974, and back then, the hole was as massive as Oregon. However, in 1976, the opening closeup, for what scientists believed as forever.

The giant hole has a diameter of more than 20,000 square miles. [Image: Modis-Aqua via NASA Worldview]
In 2016, NASA satellites observed a small hole in the first examination in more than 40 years. Since then, the opening has enlarged significantly, now being massive enough to fit Maryland, which is 20,000 square miles.

Cyclones May be the Culprit

The giant cavity is still five times smaller than reports in the Seventies say, but this polynya’s resurfacing was an enigma to researchers. One scientist said that it was similar to someone drilling a hole in the ice, but there were many questions surrounding the cause of this reappearance. Now, however, scientists seem to have figured out the reason for the resurfacing.

Since the Seventies, the polar Southern Ocean located in the southern region of the Antarctic Circumpolar Current has renewed and layered, most probably because of the human-made climate change. This kind of layering may be the culprit behind the suppressed reappearance of the Weddell Sea polynya.

Not long ago, it was discovered that devastating cyclones occurred above the ice region, far south from the ice margin, were the cause of the iteration of the Weddell or Maud Rise Polynya in the southern winter of 2017.

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