Sea ice in Antarctica hit record low levels this winter, the United States National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) said earlier this week, emphasising the urgency to address concerns about the increasingly devastating impact of climate change at the southern pole.
This year, sea ice covered less than 17 million square kilometres of the Antarctic, which is 1 million square kilometres less than the previous record low set in 1986, the preliminary findings by the National Snow and Ice Data Center at the University of Colorado Boulder revealed, a Bloomberg report explains. This represents the smallest peak extent in almost 45 years of satellite records.
Notably, the summer Antarctic sea ice extent also hit a record low in February, breaking the previous mark set in 2022. "It's not just a record-breaking year, it's an extreme record-breaking year," NSIDC senior scientist Walt Meier told Reuters.
In the Antarctic, the sea ice usually covers the largest expanse of ocean at some point in September; this year it was on 10 September. Following this, the ice melts during the southern hemisphere’s summer, with the most open water typically seen in early March, the Bloomberg report explains. Decreased sea ice leads to less sunlight being reflected into space, and scientists are worried that more open water may increase global warming.
In a press release, the NSIDC also said there are concerns that this could be the beginning of a long-term trend of decline for Antarctic sea ice as oceans are warming globally, and warm water mixing in the Southern Ocean polar layer could continue, the Bloomberg report adds. If this dramatic decrease in sea-ice coverage continues, more of the coastline will be exposed to ocean waves, the effects of which are not yet clear, the NSIDC also noted.
Another critical update came from Antarctica last month. Researchers from the British Antarctic Survey found that about 10,000 emperor penguin chicks could have drowned in late 2022 as their breeding grounds in Antarctica melted beneath their feet. "This is the first major breeding failure of emperor penguins across several colonies due to sea ice loss, and is probably a sign of things to come," the study's lead author and a researcher at the British Antarctic Survey Peter Fretwell told AFP.
A study published in Frontiers in Environmental Science in August warned that global warming has made Antarctica more vulnerable to extreme events and the impact is "virtually certain" to get worse.
(With inputs from news agencies).