At the end of February 2023, the extent of Antarctic sea ice reached a new record low. Since the first measurements were carried out using satellite imaging 45 years ago, the area of the ocean covered by the ice sheet had never been so small.
1.79 million square kilometres recorded on 21 February
The figures were published by the US-based National Snow and Ice Data Centre (NSIDC). This research institute had already announced some worrying news earlier in the month, revealing that Antarctic sea ice, even before the end of the southern hemisphere summer, saw greater melting than in 2021, which had itself been a record year.
The melting process continued over the following days and, on 21 February, the US agency spoke of an overall extent of 1.79 million square kilometres. The NSIDC noted that this is still a “preliminary” figure and that “further melting could bring it even lower”.
Sea ice sheet also vital to reflect sunlight
For years, scientists all over the world have raised alarms about the melting of the polar ice caps, which contain enough freshwater to have the potential to cause significant sea level rise. This would have catastrophic consequences in terms of coastal flooding and many regions would be completely submerged (even the entire territory of some countries, as in the case of certain atolls in the Pacific Ocean).
Lower sea ice extent means that ocean waves will pound the coast of the giant ice sheet, further reducing ice shelves around Antarctica https://t.co/OmcqG4Wpim
And there’s more: the ice sheet is white and therefore reflects sunlight, unlike the ocean, which is much darker and tends to absorb this energy. Thus, inevitably, the heat absorbed by the planet will only increase, exacerbating global warming and climate change.
Antarctica at risk of becoming like the Arctic
Lastly, the news is particularly bad because thus far, Antarctica had seemed to better resist the increase in global average temperatures. Meanwhile, for example, heating in the Arctic has been advancing much quicker than in the rest of the Earth.