Scientists have been baffled by the appearance of a huge hole in the ice which has suddenly appeared as the result of a collapse in Antarctica. Researchers investigating the site have described the enormous sinkhole as being approximately the same size as the US state of Maine.
At this current time, the most probable theory is that the ice hole is a polynya. The word ‘polynya’ comes from the Russian полынья which refer to the naturally formed ice holes discovered by the polar explorers of the nineteenth century who used these openings to negotiate the areas of the freezing cold and treacherously dangerous Arctic sea. Today, the term is used to refer to a region of open water which is surrounded on all sides by sea ice. Some of these polynyas may be very small whereas others, such as the gigantic one which has just opened in Antarctica, can be inexplicably larger.
Polynyas are not uncommon in Antarctica where they often form in the coastal regions when the slightly warmer temperature of the outlying ocean causes sections of the ice to melt and suddenly collapse. However, the currently enormous polynya does not fit this typical trend as it is located very deep into the ice pack. Therefore, it is presumed that it must have formed by processes which are not yet understood by scientists studying the Antarctic landscape.
This is not the first time that scientists have spotted this form of unusual polynya. Between 1974 and 1976, an equally enormous polynya named the Weddell Polynya could be observed. Unfortunately, at the time scientists did not have the tools at their disposal to properly investigate the science behind the bizarre phenomenon.
In 2018, however, scientists do have the technology to get to the bottom of this mystery. Atmospheric physicist and professor at the University of Toronto Mississauga, Kent Moore, is leading a project with the purpose of discovering more about this unusual occurrence. He has been using both deep-sea robots and observations from satellites to provide the information for his research and has claimed that the sheer volume of data that they have obtained is ‘amazing’.