Antarctic sea ice at lowest winter extent on record: US data

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An iceberg floats near Two Hummock Islands, Antarctica, on February 2, 2020, by Reuters.

A preliminary US analysis of satellite data showed on Monday that the surface area of ​​sea ice around Antarctica is likely to be at a record low this winter, when it was at its maximum size.

As the Southern Hemisphere transitions to spring, the US National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) said in a statement that Antarctic sea ice this year reached a maximum size of just 16.96 million square kilometers (6.55 million square miles) on Sept. 10. Had reached. ,

The ice pack typically reaches its largest size during the cold winter months, so the September 10 reading is likely to be this year’s highest reading.

“This is the lowest sea ice extent by a wide margin in the 1979 to 2023 sea ice record,” said NSIDC, a government-backed program at the University of Colorado at Boulder.

At its highest point this year, sea ice was 1.03 million square kilometers smaller than the previous record, roughly the size of Texas and California combined.

“This is record-breaking sea ice in the Antarctic,” said NSIDC scientist Walt Meier.

He said the increase in sea ice appears to be “less nearly across the entire continent than in any one region.”

According to NSIDC, in February, at the peak of the Australian summer, the Antarctic sea ice pack reached a minimum extent of 1.79 million square kilometers, which was also a record.

Despite the onset of winter, the ice pack grew back at an unusually slow pace.

Meanwhile on the other side of the world, where summer is coming to a close, Arctic sea ice has fallen to a low of 4.23 million square kilometres, NSIDC said. This represents the sixth lowest minimum in 45 years of recordkeeping.

– Warming oceans –
For several decades, the Antarctic sea ice pack remained stable, even expanding slightly.

But NSIDC said, “Since August 2016, Antarctic sea ice extent has declined significantly in almost all months.”

The cause of the change is debated among scientists, with some reluctant to establish a formal link with global warming. Climate models have struggled in the past to predict changes in the Antarctic ice pack.

“The decline trend is now believed to be related to warming of the uppermost layer of the ocean,” NSIDC said.

“There is some concern that this could be the beginning of a long-term trend of decline in Antarctic sea ice as the oceans warm globally.”

The melting of pack ice has no immediate effect on sea levels, because it is formed by the freezing of salt water already present in the ocean.

But white ice reflects the sun’s rays more than deep ocean water, so its loss increases global warming.

The loss of pack ice also exposes Antarctica’s coastline to greater wave action, which can destabilize the freshwater ice cap and threaten coastal habitats. Melting of land ice will cause a catastrophic rise in sea levels.

However, NSIDC raised a possibility that waves impacting the ice sheet “could increase accumulation near the coast, thereby reducing the risk of sea level rise to some extent.”

By Agence France-Presse

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