Floating Antarctic ice goes from record high to record lows

James Marshall
July 4, 2019

According to NASA satellite images, gains in Antarctic sea ice were being made from 1979 until 2014, when the pattern shifted from record highs to record lows by 2017.

The decline in the ocean ice could be a result of natural variability, driven by fluctuation in patterns of the wind which impact the degree of Antarctic Ocean ice, explained Mark Serreze, executive of the US National Snow and Ice Data Center. He called the plummeting ice levels "a white-knuckle ride".

Unlike the Arctic, Antarctica is not warming and remains the coldest place on Earth, as well as its largest source of freshwater.

"But the fact that a change this big can happen in such a short time should be viewed as an indication that the Earth has the potential for significant and rapid change", University of Colorado ice scientist Waleed Abdalati said in an email.

At the polar regions, ice ranges develop throughout the winter and shrink in the summer. Around Antarctica, sea ice averaged around 4.9 million square miles in 2014. Still, even considering the recent fall, the Antarctic shows an overall increase in sea ice cover for the 40-year record. There was an unobtrusive uptick around 2017 and 2018, yet the degree of ocean ice has since fallen again and now is at a close record low for this season, added Parkinson.

"It went from its 40-year high in 2014, all the way down in 2017 to its 40-year low", said Parkinson, whose findings were published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

The difference - about 770,000 square miles - covers an area three times the size of Texas. Losing that much in merely three years "is fairly incredible" and sooner than something scientists have seen earlier than, mentioned research creator Claire Parkinson, a NASA climate scientist. Antarctic sea ice increased slightly in 2018, but still was the second lowest since 1979.

The Arctic has shown a melting trend for decades, so consistent and dramatic that it's now a symbol of climate change. Now, Antarctica is outstripping its northern counterpart at an alarming rate - the continent has lost as much sea ice in the last four years as the Arctic has in the last 34 years.

"The Arctic has become a poster child for global warming", Parkinson said.

The Arctic is an ocean surrounded by land, while Antarctica is a continent surrounded by oceans, where icebergs are less constrained.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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