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Researchers: Rare Antarctic Ice Tear May Impact Global Climate

Satellite photograph of the hole in the ice in the Weddle Sea in this undated picture.
Satellite photograph of the hole in the ice in the Weddle Sea in this undated picture.

Scientists have a better idea about a phenomenon that results in a huge opening in the winter ice sheet around Antarctica.

Researchers first saw a massive opening in the mid-1970s when a hole the size of Oregon opened. They were better prepared to study what happens when a new hole opened up in 2016 and 2017.

The region is considered key to global ocean currents.


Stormy conditions combine with an upwelling of deep ocean water to create a huge tear in the ice sheet that doesn’t refreeze. The deep ocean water that rises to the surface brings along heat and carbon.

“You want to be able to understand the amount of heat that’s either lost or gained by the ocean. This is going to be a significant change to the ocean heat content,” said Matt Mazloff, a researcher at San Diego’s Scripps Institution of Oceanography.

The ice tears happen in a part of the Southern Ocean that affects global ocean currents.

“And these are really extreme events, you can think of a volcano that puts a big blip in the climate scenes. These open ocean polynyas put a big blip in the ocean properties and we’re still trying to understand what they’re doing to the atmospheric properties,” Mazloff said.

The findings are published in the current edition of the journal Nature.

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