Antarctica has a giant sea ice hole, as big as Switzerland. Here’s why it keeps reappearing

In the latest discovery, scientists have found the mysterious reason behind the reappearance of a giant ice hole in Antarctica, which is equal to the size of Switzerland. 

The rare gaping hole of ice-free water, which is known as a polynya, was first discovered by scientists in 1974 and it remained as a void for two years till it was eventually closed.

However, the scientists were left baffled in 2016 and 2017 after the large size polynya reappeared which forced them to look for the reason which was forming the hole.

Here’s what the scientists found

The University of Southampton’s researchers discovered that the cause of the mysterious hole was a combination of the ocean’s wind, water currents and the increase in the salt level in the water which was melting the sea ice and creating the space.

The opening was named by the scientists as the Maud Rise polynya in the 1970s. The name was derived from the underwater mountain which was located beneath the hole in the Weddell Sea. 

Generally, polynyas appear every year in sea ice which is located in the coastal areas of Antarctica. However, it is unusual for them to get formed hundreds of miles away in the open ocean. 

In a statement, the study’s lead author and a postdoctoral research fellow at the University of Southampton Aditya Narayanan said, “The Maud Rise polynya was discovered in the 1970s when remote sensing satellites that can see sea ice over the Southern Ocean were first launched.” 

“It persisted through consecutive winters from 1974 to 1976 and oceanographers back then assumed it would be an annual occurrence. But since the 1970s, it has occurred only sporadically and for brief intervals. 2017 was the first time that we’ve had such a large and long-lived polynya in the Weddell Sea since the 1970s,” he added. 

How do polynyas affect oceans?

The researchers have now warned that the oceans can be adversely effected by polynyas and lead to rise in sea levels, which rose by 0.3 inches from 2022 to 2023. 

Watch: Russia activates world’s first satellite for Arctic observation

The study’s co-author and professor at the University of California Sarah Gille said, “The imprint of polynyas can remain in the water for multiple years after they’ve formed.”

“They can change how water moves around and how currents carry heat towards the continent. The dense waters that form here can spread across the global ocean,” she added. 

(With inputs from agencies)


Prisha is a digital journalist at WION and she majorly covers international politics. She loves to dive into features and explore different cultures and histories


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