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Antarctica Sea Ice Hits New Record Low

Antarctica Sea Ice Hits New Record Low
Antarctica Sea Ice Hits New Record Low. Credit: NASA Ice / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

The frozen frontier of Antarctica is fast losing its icy grip. The southern continent has witnessed a dramatic decline in sea-ice coverage, with satellite measurements revealing a record low since the late 1970s.

Unusual weather patterns and warmer air and water have conspired to shrink the icy expanse to just 1.91 million square kilometers, which is smaller than the size of Mexico. The melting process still has some way to go this summer, hinting at even more drastic changes.

The previous record-breaking minimum was reached last year, but this year has already outstripped that mark, with three of the last seven years experiencing the same trend. These developments suggest a disconcerting pattern as the earth’s climate continues to change rapidly, leaving no corner of the world untouched.

The peculiarity of this new phenomenon

Scientists are currently observing a decline in the amount of sea ice surrounding Antarctica during the summer months. However, it is a complicated phenomenon that cannot be solely attributed to climate change, as there has been great variability in sea-ice extent over the past 40 years.

Antarctica Sea Ice Extent.
Antarctica Sea Ice Extent. Credit: National Snow and Ice Data Center.

Interestingly, computer models had predicted that Antarctic sea ice would show a long-term decline, similar to what we have seen in the Arctic. However, that has yet to be the case. In fact, data sources other than satellites show that Antarctic sea ice was in a state of decline early in the last century but then started to increase.

Currently, Antarctic sea ice has shown great variability, with record satellite winter maximums and now record satellite summer minimums.

In the winter, the ice floes can cover a massive 18 million square kilometers. These observations are important in understanding the complexities of our changing climate and the impacts it can have on our planet.

Rising air temperatures

In 2022, the Antarctic sea-ice minimum hit a record low, and scientists are linking the decline to rising air temperatures in the east and west of the Antarctic Peninsula. These regions have experienced temperatures 1.5C above the long-term average, causing a dark red coloration on temperature maps.

Additionally, the Southern Annular Mode (SAM), which describes atmospheric pressure variations around Antarctica, is currently in a strongly positive phase. This has strengthened the westerly winds and driven them poleward, breaking up floes and pushing them northward to melt in warmer waters.

The SAM’s increasingly positive trends may be linked to the presence of an ozone hole and rising greenhouse gas levels. The Antarctic’s geography also contributes to its vulnerability to ice melt.

As a continent surrounded by ocean, its ice growth in winter is less constrained, but summer warmth can chase the sea ice all the way back to the coastline. The Antarctic also struggles to retain ice from year to year, resulting in thinner floes than those found in the Arctic.

The Arctic, on the other hand, is an ocean surrounded by continents, resulting in smaller ice extents and maximums that rarely exceed 15 million sq km.

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