A mysterious, massive hole, as large as Lake Superior or the State of Maine, has recently been spotted in the winter sea ice cover around Antarctica. This opening, known as a polynya, is the largest observed in the Weddell Sea since the 1970s. At its largest extent, this winter's polynya had an area of open water close to 80,000 km. This marks the second year in a row in which the polynya has formed, although it was not as large last year.
Due to the harshness of the Antarctic winter and the difficulties of operating within its pack ice, there exist few direct observations of these polynyas and their impacts on the atmospheric and oceanic circulation. As part of the SOCCOM project, robotic profiling floats capable of operating under sea ice have deployed in the region for the past number of years.
Last month, one of these floats surfaced inside the Weddell Sea polynya, making contact with researchers and providing unique data on its existence. With these new ocean measurements, along with space-based observations and climate models, comes the possibility that these polynyas' secrets and their impacts on the climate may finally be revealed.
The Daily Galaxy via University of Toronto
Image credits: mallemaroking.org