According to the United States National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) report, Antarctic sea ice reached a maximum annual extent of just 16.96 million square kilometers (6.55 million square miles) during the austral winter.
Heatwave warning issued in South Australia
“On September 10, Antarctic sea ice likely reached its annual maximum extent of 16.96 million square kilometers (6.55 million square miles). This is by far the lowest sea ice maximum in the sea ice record from 1979 to 2023,” the company emphasized.
The extent of Antarctic ice this southern winter was the smallest in more than four decades, while this year’s maximum is 1.03 million square kilometers (398,000 square miles) below the previous historical minimum in 1986.
Nsidc also said that “there is some concern that this may be the start of a long-term trend of Antarctic sea ice decline as oceans warm worldwide and mixing of warm water in the polar ice cap of the Southern Ocean may continue.”
The Southern Ocean and its sea ice are an important part of Earth’s energy balance, reflecting sunlight back into space and supporting a rich ecosystem at the edge of the ice, the center reported.
Likewise, the agency warns that if dramatically reduced sea ice extent continues through the summer minimum of 2024 and beyond, much of the Antarctic coast will be exposed to ocean waves and weather.
Erosion of the most persistent coastal ice and ice shelves would lead to destabilization of the ice sheet; or major accumulation near the coast, which partially offsets the threat of sea level rise, and are two of the dangers of this situation.