Antarctica sea ice has hit its lowest level ever recorded, with scientists at the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) at the University of Colorado Boulder confirming that the ice has likely reached its minimum extent for the year. It’s the lowest extent ever recorded since the start of satellite observations in 1979, which marks the lowest minimum in the 45-year satellite record.
On February 21, 2023, the sea ice extent measured 1.79 million square kilometers (691,000 square miles), a decrease of 130,000 square kilometers (50,000 square miles) from the previous record-low set on February 25, 2022. This is equivalent to an area the size of New York State. Notably, this marks the second time scientists have observed the ice shrinking below 2 million square kilometers.
Despite several years of low sea ice extent in the region, the long-term trend for sea ice in the southern polar waters remains essentially flat. However, it is the declines in sea ice in the Arctic that are contributing to the global sea ice trend’s downward movement.
Impact Of Climate Change
According to Ted Scambos, a senior research scientist at the Cooperative Institute for Research in the Environmental Sciences (CIRES) and a contributor to NSIDC’s Arctic Sea Ice News and Analysis, Antarctica’s response to climate change differs from that of the Arctic. While the downward trend in sea ice around Antarctica may signal the impact of global warming on floating ice in the region, several more years of data collection are required to confirm this.
Lower sea ice extent around Antarctica raises concerns about the potential impacts of ocean waves pounding the coast of the giant ice sheet, further reducing ice shelves in the region.
Concerns For Land Ice And Sea Level Rise
Julienne Stroeve, NSIDC senior research scientist and the University of Manitoba professor highlights that sea ice plays a critical role in buffering large floating ice shelves and major outlet glaciers such as Pine Island and Thwaites. If these glaciers experience a more rapid loss of land ice, it could trigger a dramatic increase in sea level rise rates before the end of this century. In her words, she said, “The sea ice helps to buffer large floating ice shelves and major outlet glaciers such as Pine Island and Thwaites, and if these glaciers begin a more rapid runaway loss of land ice, it could trigger a dramatic increase in sea level rise rates before the end of this century.”
Preliminary Numbers And Continued Monitoring
Scientists at the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) have stressed that the current Antarctic sea ice extent numbers are preliminary and may change due to continued melt conditions. This means that the extent could potentially decrease even further.
To provide a comprehensive and accurate analysis of this year’s ice conditions, the NSIDC plans to release a formal announcement at the beginning of March. The announcement will include a detailed analysis of the possible causes behind this year’s ice conditions, interesting aspects of the melt season, the setup going into the winter growth season ahead, and graphics comparing this year to the long-term record.
As scientists continue to study the changes in Antarctica’s sea ice extent, the NSIDC team highlights the importance of continued monitoring and analysis to better understand the impacts of climate change on the region and the planet as a whole.