Antarctic: Scientists reveal sea-ice hits new record low since 1979

The Antarctic cycle changes dramatically every year. Why is this important to all of us?
Sade Agard
Stock Photo: Antarctica.
Stock Photo: Antarctica.


Antarctic sea ice extent has beaten last year's record low. What's more, the melt season is still likely to have a couple of extra weeks to run its course, according to a report from scientists at the US National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) on February 14. 

They claim that since we started measuring ice in the Antarctic in the late 1970s, there has never been less of it encircling the continent.

Why is the Antarctic's sea ice loss significant?

Melting sea ice has no direct impact on sea levels because the ice is already in ocean water. However, it rings the Antarctic's massive ice shelves, which are the extensions of the freshwater glaciers. 

These glaciers threaten catastrophic sea level rise over centuries if they continue melting as global temperatures rise.

NSIDC has now revealed that "much of the Antarctic coast is ice-free, exposing the ice shelves that fringe the ice sheet to wave action and warmer conditions."

They demonstrate that this week, the Antarctic's sea ice fell to 1.91 million square kilometers (737,000 square miles). This set a new record low, dropping below the previous record of 1.92 million square kilometers (741,000 square miles) set on February 25, 2022.

In the past seven years, there have been three years with record-low sea ice: 2017, 2022, and now 2023.

Additionally, frozen seawater is essential due to its role in the great ocean conveyer- the mass movement of water that helps regulate energy in the climate system.

Simply put, this process works when sea ice expels salt at the ocean's surface, making the water below denser and causing it to sink.

Not to mention sea-ice's significance for life at the poles, including its role as a platform for food sources to cling onto and where some animals can rest.

How unusual is the Antarctic's sea ice record low?

Antarctic: Scientists reveal sea-ice hits new record low since 1979
Graph showing Antarctic annual sea ice minimum extent.

But is this new record unusual? Or, more significantly, is it something to worry about? In short, it's not clear. From what we know, the Antarctic cycle undergoes considerable annual changes in its summers of thawing and its winters of freezing. 

Moreso, these changes can't just be attributed to climate change.

We also know that the continent has not recently suffered (the past four years) the rapid melting brought on by global warming that affects the ice sheets of Greenland and the Arctic. 

"Overall, the trend in Antarctic minimum extent over 1979 to 2023 is near zero," disclosed the NSIDC. "The current downward linear trend in the Antarctic minimum extent from 1979 to 2023 is 2,400 square kilometers (930 square miles) per year, or 0.9 percent per decade, which is currently not statistically significant." 

Nevertheless, the scientists highlighted that the high melting rate since 2016 prompts worries that have fueled research on potential causes.

Therefore, further investigation is underway to establish whether a significant downward trend in sea ice loss in the Southern Hemisphere is establishing itself. 

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