Scientists are at a loss for words when it comes to the mysterious hole that recently opened up in Antarctica. At 31,000 square miles (approximately 80,000 square kilometers), this massive hole is the size of the entire state of Maine. The opening is called a polynya and is the largest one seen since the 1970's. After 40 years, the polynya appeared, larger than ever, east of the Antarctic Peninsula in the Weddell Sea.

Ice-free region

What makes this polynya so intriguing is that it has no ice inside. Scientists described the polynya as looking as though someone had "punched a hole" in the ice.

Researchers speculate that this phenomenon may be the result of natural climate change, but they will not know for sure until they can perform more experiments.

Expeditions in Antarctica are extremely difficult. Scientists are attempting to use small submersible objects called robotic floats. These "mini-submarines" are crucial for gathering information from inside the Weddell Sea polynya. One robotic float has made its way into the hole, and scientists are currently studying the data being gathered.

An atmospheric physicist from the University of Toronto, Kent Moore, reported that the giant hole was hundreds of miles away from land. He said that if the team did not have the use of satellites, they would have been unaware of its reappearance.

What is a polynya?

Scientists are not exactly sure what is causing the Weddell polynya. However, they do know that it is releasing heat. It's expected that the hole will continue to sink water until warmer spring air causes it to stop.

Currently, a layer of cold, fresh water is covering a mass of warm, salt water in the region of the hole.

According to Dr. Mojib Latif, head of the GEOMAR Research Division, the layers inside this hole are functioning as of part of an insulator. The lower layers of warm water can sometimes reach the surface, causing the ice to melt. He explained it as being a type of pressure relief valve.

Dr. Latif added that the ocean area around Antarctica may release quite a bit of heat until the reservoir is emptied.

This heat is released into the atmosphere consecutively for many years during the winter months.

Climate change

It is unclear whether or not climate change has any effect on the formation of the Weddell polynya. Not enough information has been gathered yet. However, some scientists speculate that with an increase in global warming, the Weddell polynya may not occur again. Other scientists hypothesize that this massive hole is a natural variable that will happen again at some point in the future.