Antarctic Sea Ice Has Reached An All-time Low. Should We Worry?

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Antarctic sea ice has shrunk by about 2 million square kilometers this year. Experts seek the cause of this extreme event.

Penguins on a block of ice in Artartida

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LatinAmerican Post | Brandon Martínez Salazar

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Leer en español: El hielo marino antártico ha alcanzado un mínimo histórico ¿Hay qué preocuparse?

For 44 years, a record has been made of the behavior of Antarctic sea ice, whose historical minimum had set records with a reduction of 2.1 million kilometers in 2017. However, the observatories estimated that this figure will be higher this year, It reached 1,966 million kilometers on February 25, according to the US National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC).

For context, Antarctica is the fourth largest continent in the world. Its surface is about 14,000,000 kilometers and 98% of its extension is made up of ice, which allows it to increase proportionally. In other words, year after year there are variations in this area.

Now, according to Ryan Fogt, a climatologist at Ohio University in Athens, "sea ice maintained its extent below average from 2017 to 2020, the year in which its conditions returned to normal."

This information from the University of Ohio is verified with satellite data that tracks sea ice that breaks off the surface. However, for scientists, it is still a mystery what happens with the climate at the South Pole.

Carlota Escutia, a Spanish geologist, and polar scientist, explains that “Tropical phenomena change the winds and that change moves to the poles. For this reason, in some areas the ice grows, and in others it does not, as this work confirms. All this tells us about the complexity of Antarctica and its climate. At the same time that ice increases, we see that more warm water reaches the coast and that some glaciers increase and others retreat "

So the behavior of climate effects in Antarctica is often very unpredictable. Therefore, the fact that the established minimum record has been exceeded means that something strange is happening in the climate. Therefore, it is necessary to start investigating what its cause is.

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Are these climate effects in Antarctica worrying?

For Marilyn Raphael, Professor of Geography and Director of the UCLA Institute for Environment and Sustainability. "Antarctic sea ice varies from year to year, but this has been a larger variation than normal."

However, the fact that the sea ice reaches its minimum extent is something historical and unprecedented with the records that have been taken in the last four decades. Therefore, it is a phenomenon that continues to intrigue scientists, who now have a series of uncertainties on the subject.

Although this fall is probably a variability of the phenomena that occur at the south pole, since many pieces of ice that break off return, what is really worrying is that the cause was the product of greenhouse gas emissions.

For Fogt, the biggest intrigue is what might happen in the future if the weather continues to change rapidly. That is why he believes that the causes that are producing these extreme changes should be scientifically investigated. The researchers have pointed out that these data could be the beginning of a continuous loss of Antarctic sea ice, as has happened with that of the Arctic in the last five decades. If this were so, it means that the two polar surfaces, essential for the planet, would be affected by global warming. It is not yet time to know if it is an irreversible phenomenon.

In addition, it must be remembered that the UN has already warned about the points of no return and how key it is for human life to prevent the global temperature from exceeding 1.5 degrees Celsius.