Sometimes, an enormous hole, known as a polynya, forms in the ice that appears over Antarctica’s Weddell Sea during the winter. Earle Wilson, an oceanographer at the University of Washington, expressed his opinion on the matter: “Essentially it’s flipping over of the entire ocean, rather than an injection of surface water on a one-way trip from the surface to the deep.”
How polynyas affect the environment
In 2016 and 2017, as well, scientists were amazed by the polynya, since it was the first time they were ever able to monitor the hole in Antarctica’ sea ice. This was not the biggest gap that ever appeared in the area, but it was the first time oceanographers had the opportunity to study it.
Polynyas are important because they can affect the Antarctic Bottom Water, which is the deepest water in the oceans, being colder and denser than the water above.
These massive holes in Antarctica can also affect the atmosphere because deep water contains carbon, which is released into the air when this water reaches the surface.
Scientists believe they found the cause of these holes in Antarctica
New research, led by the University of Washington, aims to elaborate a better understanding of the phenomenon. The team of researchers uses satellite images, robotic drifters and sensors to reach this goal. The study explores the causes of this phenomenon and the results it can lead to for the larger ocean circulation.
In 2016, a large polynya appeared for the first time in decades. In August 2016, NASA released a satellite image of a 33,000-square-kilometer gap. In the fall of 2017, an even bigger hole, of 50,000 square kilometers, was detected.
After some investigation, experts determined that in recent years polynyas appeared due to unusual ocean conditions and extremely intense storms over the Weddell Sea.