Antarctic Sea Ice Melts to a Record Low, Can Melt Further in Summer

Sea ice in the Antarctic region
Sea ice in the Antarctic region, Credit: WIkimedia/Andrew Mandemaker

Due to relatively less sunlight because of the tilt of the Earth, the ice-covered polar regions of our planet are the coldest regions on Earth. Of the two polar regions, the continent of Antarctica contains the largest single sheet of ice. This sheet of ice is estimated to be around 14 million square kilometers (5 million square miles) in area and contains about 30 million cubic kilometers (7 million cubic miles) of ice. This ice is equal to 60% of the planet’s total fresh water! If this ice were to melt, sea levels would rise by 70 meters (76 yards)!


Apart from the freshwater ice sheet covering the continent of Antarctica, the ocean of this region also freezes to form a salty type of ice known as “sea ice.” The area covered by the sea ice changes each year as per the season. Sea ice covers around 3 million square kilometers (1 million square miles) in the summers and around 20 million square kilometers (7 million square miles) in the winters. Thus, sea ice almost doubles the size of the Antarctic region in winters!


Sea ice is extremely important for life in the Antarctic region. Sea ice covers the sea and prevents sunlight from reaching the ocean water, allowing for algae (small microbes) to grow. Algae is a source of food for small organisms known as krill, which are food for whales, seals, penguins, and other animals of this region.


However, according to a study begun in the 1970s, there is now less sea ice around Antarctica than ever seen before! Scientists saw from satellites that wind, warm air, and water reduced the area covered by sea ice to just 1.91 million square kilometers (737,000 square miles) in February this year. This is the lowest area covered by sea ice recorded so far! Furthermore, the sea ice is expected to melt further as the summer season fully arrives in the Antarctic region.


Along with the satellites, scientists, cruises, and fishing vessels in the seas also report similar findings from around the continent. Some of the surrounding seas are almost ice-free. According to scientists, this low sea ice may not be solely caused by climate change. However, in past years the area covered by sea ice has steadily decreased each summer season.

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