Giant hole discovered in oldest Arctic ice and it could disappear in 100 years

A giant hole opened in the oldest and thickest ice in the Arctic in May 2020, a shocking new study has revealed.

Despite scientists believing this area of ice was the Arctic's most stable, they now know that the ancient ice is more vulnerable to melting than they originally thought.

The polynya – or area of open water – is the first ever observed north of Ellesmere Island.

But in researchers' report on the polynya, which was published in August in the Geophysical Research Letters journal, they reveal that similar holes may have opened in 1988 and 2004.

The leader of the study, Kent Moore, said in a statement: "North of Ellesmere Island it's hard to move the ice around or melt it just because it's thick, and there's quite a bit of it.

"So, we generally haven't seen polynyas form in that region before."

The ice in the sea off the northern coast of Ellesmere Island is known to be over 13 feet thick, with an average age of five years.

However, this "last ice" of the Arctic appears to be vulnerable to the "rapid warming" taking place in northern latitudes.

According to two 2021 studies, the Wandel Sea has lost half of its overlying ice, and the ice arches that connect the stable sea ice to Greenland are forming later and melting faster each year.

Researchers now claim that the last ice area may completely melt each summer by the end of the century.

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This would mean animals that depend on year-round sea ice, such as polar bears, would go extinct.

David Babb, a sea ice researcher at the University of Manitoba in Canada, said in a statement: "The formation of a polynya in the area is really interesting.

"It's sort of like a crack in the shield of this solid ice cover that typically exists in that area. So that this is happening is also really, really highlighting how the Arctic is changing."

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According to Kent Moore, polynyas might open up more often in the future as the last ice of the Arctic melts.

In the short term, these open areas can be oases for life: Sunlight hits the ocean water, allowing for more algal photosynthesis, which attracts fish and crustaceans. These animals, in turn, attract seabirds, seals and polar bears, he added. But this explosion of life is only temporary.

He said: "Over the long term, as ice melts and moves offshore and species like walruses and seabirds lose access to it, we lose that benefit.

"And eventually, it gets so warm that species can't survive."

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