Things we learned from that giant hole in Antarctica

The discovery of the hole in the ice of Antarctica that quickly grew to the size of Ireland sparked international mystery and intrigue, and an eventual solution that indicates global warming is causing more and worse polar cyclones that cause giant holes that then affects global ocean circulation. Climate change aside, I want to bring some attention to three super interesting things we learned from this (besides just the general fact that the earth is more spectacular and AWEsome than anything we could think up our own selves).

polyanya

1. Polar Cyclones: now you’re thinking, of course it’s possible to have hurricanes in the arctic. But had you really thought about it before? They don’t tend to be as ferocious as the ones that destroy the east coast, but consider 1,000 miles of -45 degree C wind spinning about and creating a hole the size of Rhode Island then eventually Ireland. In this particular case, scientists speculate that the GIANT UNDERWATER MOUNTAIN caused warm currents to move up towards the surface, which triggered the polar cyclone in the first place.

polar cyclone

borrowed this from NBC News

2. The Maud Rise Seamount: aka GIANT UNDERWATER MOUNTAIN. For someone who loves mountains, I was pretty disappointed to read the word Seamount for the first time after 33 years of ignorance. They’re earth’s illegitimate kids: big, secret mountains that are entirely underwater, rising from the sea floor and never breaching the water. We’re pretty familiar with underwater mountains, because that’s what islands are made of, and I knew about the mountains in Greenland that are being uncovered by global warming, but I just hadn’t thought all the way through to mountains that only exist underwater. Maud Rise is 3,400m tall, that’s around 11,200ft, and it’s still 1,600m below the ocean’s surface.  There are taller seamounts, like Koko Guyot, an underwater volcano near Hawaii that’s 16,000ft tall (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Koko_Guyot), but most seamounts are under 13,000ft.

maud rise

this photo is from Science

3. Polynya: is a Russian word for natural ice hole. It was originally adopted by explorers to refer to navigable areas in polar seas, basically water that’s not ice, even when it’s surrounded by ice. Polynya is now the geologic term for “unfrozen sea within the ice pack.” These are fairly common but not nearly as big as this famous one was (hence the notoriety) over the Maud Rise. Apparently, there was a big giant hole over Maud Rise in the ‘70s. Now that we’ve unraveled the mystery of polynyas is global warming, we can go ahead and expect more, bigger polar cyclones and more, bigger polynyas.

polynya

More polynyas, photo by the National Institute of Weather and Atmospheric Research

 

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