Sea-ice levels in Antarctica reached a record low in mid-September, satellite imagery from the National Snow and Ice Data Centre shows.
Sea ice, the water that freezes on the surface of the sea in the Arctic and Antarctic hemispheres, has been decreasing in both regions.
In Antarctica, sea ice levels reached record lows at least twice in 2023 after record minimums were detected in 2017 and 2022.
“It’s so far outside anything we’ve seen, it’s almost mind-blowing,” Walter Meier, senior research scientist at the United States’ National Snow and Ice Data Centre, told the BBC.
An unstable Antarctica could have far-reaching consequences for Earth’s climate, forcing global temperatures to rise with potentially devastating consequences for humanity, scientists warn.
Understanding the extent of the climate crisis in Antarctica has been challenging for scientists. The region is 1.5 times the size of the US, and there’s a lack of historical information.
“When I started studying the Antarctic 30 years ago, we never thought extreme weather events could happen there,” Prof Martin Siegert, a glaciologist at the University of Exeter, told the BBC. But scientists seem to be changing their mind.
Antarctica has been affected by global warming in many ways – it’s seen record temperature increases of 3.2°C (37.76°F) since the 1950s, over three times more than the global average.
Its ocean is also heating more rapidly than the rest of the world, and its ice shelves are melting six times faster than in the 1980s, according to the Antarctic and Southern Ocean Coalition.
The behaviour of sea ice in the region has shifted widely since the beginning of the 20th century. After a decline in the early 1900s, it began increasing again, and in recent years, both record highs and record lows have been detected, the BBC reported in February.
In 2018, for example, a Nasa report said some parts of the region were gaining ice.
But recent record lows are a cause for concern.
A report published in the scientific journal Nature links the recent record lows in sea-ice levels to the rise in the ocean’s temperature, saying that the ice is essentially melting from below.
Report co-authors Ed Doddridge and Ariaan Purich told Australia’s ABC News that this year’s level in sea ice is about 930,000 square miles less than the maximum coverage usually seen in September and that these changes may be irreversible.
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