In Antarctica, it is currently deep winter, a time when the continent is covered in darkness and surrounded by a vast frozen ocean for millions of square miles.
As the Antarctic winter approaches, the ice begins to regrow, covering an area equivalent to the size of Antarctica itself, effectively doubling the continent’s size. This cycle has been ongoing for millennia, shaping the continent’s climate and ecosystems.
However, this year, an unprecedented decline in sea ice has been observed, which has significant implications for the entire world.
Late June recorded nearly a million square miles of missing ice in the Antarctic Ocean—the smallest extent of ice measured since 1979 when satellite tracking of such events began. This reduction raises alarm bells for scientists and environmentalists alike.
“It’s a big enough deal to be alarming to climate scientists,” says Ted Scambos, who studies Antarctica at the University of Colorado, Boulder. “We’ve seen a decline in sea ice cover since about 2016, but 2023 took a huge jump downward.”
Scientists are working hard to figure out how much ice will melt in Antarctica in the next hundred years and why there was a big reduction in sea ice this year. These are tough questions to answer because Antarctica is huge, complicated, and far away.
Unlike the Arctic, where people have lived for a long time, getting to Antarctica requires special ships and planes, and it’s hard to go there for half of the year.
Sea Ice Decline: A Consequence of Climate Change
The situation with Antarctica’s sea ice is not likely to improve because of climate change. There are two main reasons for this. Firstly, global temperatures are steadily rising, leading to warmer oceans.
Secondly, the absence of ice leads to further ice loss. Ice reflects sunlight, while darker ocean water absorbs heat. As sea ice decreases, more ocean water is exposed, absorbing more heat and hindering the reformation of ice.