Antarctica just hit a record low in sea ice — by a lot

Sea ice extent around Arctic was the sixth lowest on record as well

The National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) reports that as winter comes to an end, sea ice levels around Antarctica have just reached a record low. This major achievement raises concerns that the Antarctic sea ice may be starting to decrease due to climate change.

Given that oceans are rising worldwide and warm water mixing in the Southern Ocean polar layer may continue, there is considerable fear that this may be the start of a long-term pattern of reduction for Antarctic sea ice.

Seasonal changes affect how much sea ice is present in the polar regions. Sea ice coverage in Antarctica normally reaches its lowest point around February, toward the end of the summer in the Southern Hemisphere. Mid- to late September, at the conclusion of the winter, is when it achieves its maximum size. The amount of floating sea ice in the Antarctica reached a record low towards the end of the summer, according to scientists, and the growth of the sea ice remained slow throughout the winter.

On Sept. 10, approximately 13 days earlier than usual, Antarctica surpassed its annual maximum covering. The yearly ice coverage had fallen to a record low of 6.55 million square miles at that point, which was a staggering 398,000 square miles lower than the previous record low recorded in 1986.

According to Twila Moon, an ice scientist at NSIDC, “It is surprisingly low.” We are at a really low minimum, and over the Antarctic fall and winter, there was little chance of recovering to earlier, higher extents. We are beginning to notice this yearly influence.

Sea ice in the polar areas is essential for preserving the nearby ice sheets. Less sea ice means less light will be reflected back into space, warming the oceans more and producing instability in the glaciers and ice around them. With less sea ice, coastlines are becoming considerably more exposed, removing a barrier that would have protected melting ice shelves or ice sheets.

These negative sea ice decreases and their implications in the Arctic have long been seen by scientists. The Arctic sea ice extent at the conclusion of this summer was at its sixth-lowest level in over 45 years of satellite records, according to a separate report made by the NSIDC on Monday. This development continues the troubling trend of the last 17 years having the lowest Arctic summer sea ice extents on record.

Scientists currently believe that Antarctica is experiencing a turning point similar to what the Arctic has seen with regard to declining patterns in Antarctic sea ice. Antarctica has gone through three record-breaking low sea ice summers in the past seven years alone. These records, according to a study released on September 13 imply that “the underlying processes controlling Antarctic sea ice coverage may have altered.”

As ice grows on the ocean’s surface, it appears to be influenced by rising water temperatures as well as maybe other processes, said Moon. As a result, “now we’re also seeing this sea ice loss.” “We may now be examining a very different system that affects Antarctic sea ice throughout the year.”

According to Moon, Antarctica has also been exhibiting other signs of climate change. Arctic and Antarctica are warming more quickly than the rest of the world. A significant amount of ice has melted due to the continent’s warming oceans, notably the Thwaites Glacier, which is about the size of Florida and contributes to 4% of the annual rise in sea level. According to Moon, changes in the atmosphere and the way the ocean moves have also become more obvious.

“It’s not great news,” declared Gail Whiteman, a professor of sustainability at the University of Exeter and an authority on the problems associated with polar climate change. “Polar ice is one of the largest insurance policies in the world against runaway climate change, but we can see that there are issues and alarm bells are ringing in both the North and the South sea ice.”

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