According to a new study, there is currently less sea ice in the Antarctic than at any time since satellite measurements began four decades ago. Only 2.2 million square kilometers of the Southern Ocean were covered by ice in early February 2023.
he data is based on a new analysis conducted by a team of scientists from the Alfred Wegener Institute, Helmholtz Center for Polar and Marine Research (AWI) and the University of Bremen, demonstrating that record levels of heat are now in the ocean as the climate crisis is manifesting.
“On 8 February 2023, at 2.20 million square kilometers, the Antarctic sea ice extent had already dropped below the previous record minimum from 2022 (2.27 million square kilometers on 24 February 2022). Since the sea ice melting in the Antarctic will most likely continue in the second half of the month, we can’t say yet when the record low will be reached or how much more sea ice will melt between now and then,” explained Prof. Christian Haas, an expert in Sea Ice Physics at AWI.
The rapid decline in sea ice over the past six years is quite remarkable, since the ice cover hardly changed at all in the thirty-five years before. It is still unclear whether what we are seeing is the beginning of a rapid end to summer sea ice in the Antarctic, or if it is merely the beginning of a new phase characterized by low but still stable sea ice cover in the summer.
..Prof Christian Haas added.
This rapid melting has progressed substantially from December 2022, particularly in the Bellingshausen and Amundsen Seas in the West Antarctic, with the latter being currently nearly ice-free. “The continental shelf, an area the size of Germany, is now completely ice-free,” said Karsten Gohl, an AWI geophysicist leading the expedition of the research vessel Polarstern.
According to the experts, intense melting could be due to unusually high air temperatures and strong westerly winds, which increase sea ice retreat.