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Antarctica. Record low ice in the Antarctic Ocean. “Is this the beginning of the end?”

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Antarctic sea ice has reached a record low for the second time in two years. Scientists warn that while this has no direct effect on sea level rise, the high rate of melting could exacerbate climate change in other ways.

The Antarctic Ocean (also known as the Southern Ocean) covers the southern parts of the Pacific, Atlantic and Indian Oceans. Its conventional, northern borders are marked by the 60°S parallel. Part of it is always bound by sea ice. Last week, the area shrunk to a record low.

Scientists at the US National Snow and Ice Research Center (NSIDC) reported that on February 13, Antarctica’s sea ice had an area of ​​only 1.91 million square kilometers – the lowest since measurements began in the 1970s. The previous record was set in February last year.

It could be even worse

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As the researchers explained, the surface of the sea ice could shrink even more. Every year it goes through a cycle of melting and refreezing. The “melting season” could continue for several more weeks, meaning that the extent of sea ice could shrink further.

“It’s not just a record low,” Ted Scambos of the University of Colorado at Boulder told CNN. – This is an indicator of a serious downtrend.

Melting sea ice has no noticeable effect on sea levels because the ice is already in the ocean water. Scientists explain that it, however, acts as a buffer for the huge Antarctic ice shelves, the melting of which increases this level. When sea ice is scarce, coastal ice masses are exposed to waves and high temperatures, accelerating their disintegration.

Melting sea ice is accelerating climate change in other ways as well. Its white surface reflects up to 90 percent of the sun’s energy that reaches the Earth’s south pole. When replaced by dark, unfrozen sea waves, the water absorbs a similar percentage of the sun’s heat instead, causing it to warm up.

Antarctica is getting warmerPAP/Reuters/Adam Ziemienowicz

Models and reality

Scientists have suspected for some time that Antarctica may be at least partially insulated from global warming. Climate models that predicted a decline in the extent of sea ice in the Arctic with great accuracy did not work in the south of the globe – there the frozen surface changed from year to year, seemingly unrelated to other climatic factors.

This thesis seemed to be confirmed by the record extent of winter sea ice, which was observed in 2014, but two years later, researchers began to observe a sharp downward trend. Now, after two years in a row with record low sea ice extent, scientists are getting concerned.

– The question is: has climate change reached Antarctica? Is this the beginning of the end? Christian Haas of Germany’s Alfred Wegener Institute told CNN.

Scientists explain that it is too early to say whether record sea ice decline will become the norm. Scientists will need at least another five years of observation, Scambos said, adding that at first glance, “it looks like something has changed in Antarctica, and the situation is quite dramatic.”

It’s getting hotter in the worldAdam Ziemienowicz/PAP/Reuters

Main photo source: Shutterstock

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