The Weddell Sea polynya is an area of open water that sometimes appears in the Weddell Sea over a relatively shallow region called Maud Rise.
In the latest satellite imagery from the DMSP satellite you can see the lower concentration sea ice as the darker blue colour. If you look at the MODIS imagery for the same date you can clear see black which indicates open water in the pack ice.
This is the Antarctic Peninsula and the outline of A68 from the satellite image on 14 July 2017 shown in black. The ice front is from the Bedmap2 data set (so a little out of date), and the bathymetry from the IBCSO data set.
In the map below, the shaded colour is the distance of any point on the sea bed to the closest actual depth measurement.
So the dark blue stripes labelled in the Weddell Sea are actually ship tracks - and the dark colours are good depth data. These measurements will have been made by icebreaker.
Just in front of A68 there is a very large area where no ship has been within ~80 km.
One small note on the size. I digitized the iceberg from a satellite image (a KML File can be downloaded). On twitter today there were satellite images showing fractures already.
But Martin O'Leary of the MIDAS team posted today on twitter that to the untrained eye looks like iceberg, is very likely fast ice (so thick sea ice that is "fast" to A68 - but only a few metres thick.)
The polynya I saw forming in early February is still clear, and very large in the Southern Weddell Sea. At the moment it is more than than 80,000 km2, although there is clearly a lot of young sea ice covering a large part of the polynya.
In my original post I said this was likely formed by winds from the Ronne Ice Shelf.
Well Dr Stef Lhermitte (Delft) has put together the most amazing movie showing the development of the polynya over January and February. It shows satellite sea ice data with winds from the ECMWF overlain.
You can clearly see the winds pushing the sea ice away from the ice shelf as time progresses.
I noticed yesterday that a polynya had formed in front of the Ronne Ice Shelf over the last 2 weeks.
In that image it is about 27,000 km2 in area.
I mapped the opening of the polynya from MODIS imagery over the last two weeks. There is cloud in the images but the opening of the polynya is fairly clear.
On 31 January 2017 there is no open water, but then over the 16 day period it opens to the ~27,000 km2 in area. If you're eagle eyed you can see that there is thin frazil ice forming in the open water in front of the ice shelf at the end of the sequence.
If you look at the sea ice concentration on the western Antarctic Peninsula you can see the effect of these westerly winds.
Towards the end of September 2016 the ice edge is compacted as the sea ice is pushed against the Peninsula.
The westerly winds (from bottom left to top right) compress the sea ice against the land (left hand side of the Antarctic Peninsula). This also creates open water on the eastern (right hand side ) of the Peninsula as the sea ice is pushed away from the land.
You can see the very sharp ice edge on the west, and the open open water in the MODIS satellite imagery.
The sea ice concentration anomaly for September 2016 shows that on both sides of the Antarctic Peninsula the westerly winds have reduced the amount of ice we would expect to observe by up to ~40%. On the west side because the sea ice is compressed, on the east side because the sea ice is being pushed away from the land.
This is just late winter weather.
There are a lot of Antarctic research stations on the west of the Antarctic Peninsula, including Rothera, the largest British Base. If the winds maintain the westerly direction then I can imagine it could be slow to resupply the base this season. There is time for it to change. According to the published schedule the ship is not due to arrive until 27 November 2016.
A slow resupply is not uncommon and I have been on at least one unsuccessful resupply voyage in my career. I took the picture below on 11 December 2004 under similar conditions.
I noticed in a blog post last week that there was a finger of open water extending down the Western Weddell Sea. I've carried on watching this open water in the MODIS satellite data. Whilst it's been opening and closing, there is a lot of open water. It's clearly a major sea ice generating factory at the moment.
The open water is clear in the lower resolution passive microwave sea ice data too.
If you look at some model output there are air temperatures above this open water of between -10° to about -25°C.
What is really good is if you look at the temperature anomaly (i.e. the departure from the average with a 1979-2000 baseline), it is very warm over the Weddell Sea.
I think the reason it is warmer is because the Weddell Sea pack ice is looser this year. So (as you can see in the picture above) there is lots of open water. The atmosphere is being warmed by the ocean as the sea ice is being generated.
I think the Weddell Sea pack ice is more mobile this winter. This is also telling us something about the difference between sea ice extent and sea ice thickness. The sea ice extent is large and easy to measure in the Antarctic - but we don't know how thick it is.
The iceberg A66 is about 15 km at it's widest point in this image.
We can do a bit simple maths. Estimate the iceberg has a 200 m thickness and it is triangular in shape with a base of ~4 km.
the volume = 0.5 x 15 km x 4 km x 0.2 km = 6 km3.
So the relatively small A66 contains of 6000 gigtons of water. It's a lot. But it's not a lot.
Icebergs get their reference number depending on where they originate from. This one has an identifier "A" which means it came from the sector 0° to 90°W - that's the Bellingshausen and Weddell Sea region. You can track icebergs like this both visually - like in in the image above - or using something called a Scatterometer. A scatterometer can measure the winds over the ocean, and because the winds change over the ice one can track the icebergs. Prof David Long at Brigham Young University provides an excellent database of Antarctic iceberg data based on that idea (this is their research paper on how they do that).
If we look at the location data from the ASCAT sensor you can see that A66 is at the tip of the Antarctic Peninsula - but this data is only from this year. I will have to dig a little deeper. A job for later.
And some of these icebergs (although not A66) ground at South Georgia and ultimately can affect the ecosystem. Jon Amos wrote about some work I did at a San Francisco conference in 2010 about that - it's still available on the BBC website: Giant icebergs head to watery end at island graveyard.
Overall A66 is nothing special, this is not an unusual observation.
The open water that shows up as black in the image above extends to at least as far south as the Antarctic Circle (66° 33′S). Open water along this part of the Antarctic Peninsula is unusual at any time of the year let alone the height of winter. The image below is from the National Snow and Ice Data Centre. It shows sea ice extent >15% with an outline of the typical extent for that day based on a 30-year (1981-2010) median (orange line).
The open water is also very clear in the MODIS imagery as the black wedge between the Antarctic Peninsula, and the sea ice of the Weddell Sea.
In my previous post I pointed at weather systems as likely being responsible. Now to me it looks like a large system is pushing the whole Weddell Sea sea ice to the east and away from Antarctic Peninsula.
There is always some open water in the pack ice at any time of the year, but it's clear that their is a pathway south right now. I imagine it will close soon and wouldn't be keen to be on a ship in that open water heading south.
What is interesting is the heat transfer from the ocean to the atmosphere that far south at this time of the year will be huge. This is what I wrote about that heat loss for the Arctic.