Preliminary analysis of US satellite data reveals that the sea ice surrounding Antarctic has hit an all-time low in surface area during the winter. Scientists express growing concerns about the escalating impact of climate change in the southern polar region.
As the southern hemisphere transitions into spring, it was observed that Antarctic sea ice had only reached a maximum coverage of 16.96 million square kilometers (6.55 million square miles) by September 10. This startling information was jointly reported by NASA and the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC).
The NSIDC, a government-backed program affiliated with the University of Colorado at Boulder, stated, “This is the lowest sea ice maximum in the sea ice record from 1979 to 2023, by a significant margin.”
At one point this year, the sea ice had shrunk to a mere 1.03 million square kilometers (over 397,000 square miles), smaller than the previous record low and equivalent in size to both Texas and California combined.
NSIDC scientist Walt Meier, as reported by NASA, emphasized, “It’s a record-breaking decline in Antarctic sea ice.”
In February, during the height of the austral summer, the extent of Antarctic sea ice had already reached a record low of 1.79 million square kilometers (over 691,000 square miles), according to NSIDC data. Despite the onset of winter, the ice pack’s recovery occurred at an unusually sluggish pace.
While the Arctic has been profoundly affected by climate change over the last decade, with sea ice rapidly diminishing as the northern region warms at a rate four times greater than the global average, the impact on sea ice near the South Pole has remained less certain.
For several decades, the Antarctic sea ice had maintained relative stability, even showing slight expansion from 2007 to 2016. However, this trend took a sharp downturn across nearly all months since August 2016, according to the NSIDC.
The recent shift towards record-low conditions in the Antarctic has raised concerns among scientists that climate change may be manifesting itself in Antarctic sea ice. The precise cause of this shift is still debated among scientists, with some hesitating to establish a direct link with global warming, as climate models have historically struggled to predict changes in the Antarctic ice pack.
The NSIDC noted, “There is some concern that this may be the beginning of a long-term decline in Antarctic sea ice due to global ocean warming.”
It’s important to note that these findings are preliminary, as the NSIDC cautioned on Monday. They pointed out that “changing winds or late-season growth could still increase the Antarctic ice extent.” A comprehensive analysis of the data is expected to be released in early October.
Meanwhile, in the Arctic region, where summer is coming to a close, Arctic sea ice reached a minimum of 4.23 million square kilometers (1.6 million square miles), according to the NSIDC, marking the sixth-lowest minimum in 45 years of recordkeeping.
Walt Meier also highlighted that there were notably low levels of ice in the Northwest Passage, the sea route through the Arctic Ocean connecting the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. “It is more open there than it used to be,” Meier noted. He added that there appears to be more loose, less concentrated ice, even toward the North Pole, and areas that were once solid ice sheets through the summer are now experiencing this phenomenon more frequently in recent years.
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