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· New research explores the formation of a hole on the icy surface of Antarctica’s Weddell Sea and its larger role in ocean circulation.
· What will research about this giant hole tell us about the climate and where does philanthropy fit in as a support system?
One such hole that appeared in 2016 and 2017 drew intense curiosity from scientists and reporters. Though even bigger gaps had formed decades before, this was the first time oceanographers had a chance to truly monitor the unexpected gap in Antarctic winter sea ice.
The new study combines satellite images of the sea ice cover, robotic drifters, and even seals wearing sensors to better understand the phenomenon. The findings appear in the journal Nature.
“We thought this large hole in the sea ice—known as a polynya—was something that was rare, maybe a process that had gone extinct. But the events in 2016 and 2017 forced us to reevaluate that,” says lead author Ethan Campbell, a doctoral student in oceanography at the University of Washington. “Observations show that the recent polynyas opened from a combination of factors—one being the unusual ocean conditions, and the other being a series of very intense storms that swirled over the Weddell Sea with almost hurricane-force winds.”
A “polynya,” a Russian word that roughly means “hole in the ice,” can form near shore as wind pushes the ice around. But it can also appear far from the coast and stick around for weeks to months, where it acts as an oasis for penguins, whales, and seals to pop up and breathe.
This particular spot far from the Antarctic coast often has small openings and has seen large polynyas before. The biggest known polynyas at that location were in 1974, 1975 and 1976, just after the first satellites were launched, when an area the size of New Zealand remained ice-free through three consecutive Antarctic winters despite air temperatures far below freezing.
Read the full article about a giant hole in Antarctic ice by Hannah Hickey at Futurity.