Professor Kent Moore of the University of Toronto Mississauga's Department of Chemical and Physical Sciences has been collaborating with members of the Southern Ocean Carbon and Climate Observations and Modeling (SOCCOM) project to investigate these polynyas and their climate impacts.
Known as a polynya, this year's hole was about 30,000 square miles at its largest, making it the biggest polynya observed in Antarctica's Weddell Sea since the 1970s.
Physicist Kent Moore, from the University of Toronto, told Vice Motherboard the monstrous mysterious hole was "quite remarkable".
After closing back up, and remaining that way for roughly 40 years, it has re-opened. In addition, scientists hope that in the near future it will be possible to simulate such a system with the help of computer simulation. That's a fairly straightforward explanation, but it doesn't fully address the odd timing of the hole, including its 40-year absence and seemingly spontaneous rebirth.
Scientists weren't expecting the polynya to re-appear, and aren't sure why it has resurfaced twice in the past two years.
Usually, a very cold but fresh layer of water covers a warmer and saltier layer of water, acting as insulation. Ocean convection occurs within the polynya bringing warmer water to the surface that melts the sea ice and prevents new ice from forming. That melting created the polynya. It's not clear at this point if the ice hole is influenced in any way by climate change. As the surface water comes into contact with the Antarctic atmosphere, it cools and sinks, then heats up again and rises back toward the surface.
A polynya allows heat to escape the ocean, cooling the top layer of the sea water.
"In the depths of winter, for more than a month, we've had this area of open water", Moore said. He thinks it is likely that marine mammals could be using this new opening to breathe.
Experts say it's too early to know how climate change has affected the formation of the huge polynya, if it's to blame at all. "The better we understand these natural processes, the better we can identify the anthropogenic impact on the climate system", Latif said. The blue curves represent the ice edge. However, previous other studies which applied the "Kiel Climate Model" found that polynya is part of a long-term naturally varying process, which can only mean the hole will open again sooner or later.