Antarctic Ice Plunges to New Record Lows
The amount of floating ice in Antarctica has reportedly plunged to record lows, stunning scientists. Floating ice is a strong indicator of global temperatures, and while the level of it has been steadily increasing since 1979, new satellite imagery courtesy of NASA shows nearly three decades of gains have been wiped out.
In just three years, the level of floating ice has dropped so dramatically, director of the National Snow and Ice Data Center Mark Serreze has called it “a white-knuckle ride.” Serreze, along with other experts, don’t quite know if this sharp decrease in ice is just a one-off irregularity or a tell-tale sign that the effects of global warming are finally becoming highly visible in the Arctic.
Sea ice consists of frozen ocean water that goes through cycles of melting in the summer, then refreezing in the winter. Once frozen, it floats on top of the ocean, where it is easily recorded using satellite imagery. In 2014, sea ice levels around Antarctica averaged 4.9 million square miles, but by 2017, those levels have dropped to a low of 4.1 million square miles. That difference in coverage amounts to three times the size of Texas.
NASA climate scientist Claire Parkinson said to see a loss of this scale “is pretty incredible,” and marks changes at such an accelerated scale that we have yet to see happen. This has led many climate experts to point to these findings as irrefutable evidence that the Earth is capable of undergoing drastic climate changes in a rapid time frame. Sea ice is a crucial aspect of the polar ecosystem, and a crucial part for penguins, whales, seals, kill, and a variety of other animals and marine life.
While the Arctic has shown slight variations in the levels of sea ice, changes like these are unprecedented. Despite sea ice usually occurring in polar regions, it plays a big role in influencing global climate and weather patterns.