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Antarctic sea ice extent reaches all-time low: EU monitor

Reduced ice cover is a major problem because it helps accelerate global warming.

Antarctic sea ice reached its lowest monthly extent in February, breaking a previous record set in 2017, the European Union’s climate monitoring service said.

In a report published Tuesday, the Copernicus Climate Change Service (C3S) said Antarctic sea ice has shrunk 34 percent below its February average.

“Our most recent data shows that Antarctic sea ice has reached its lowest extent in the 45-year satellite data record,” said C3S Deputy Director Samantha Burgess. “These low sea ice conditions may have important implications for the stability of the Antarctic ice shelves and ultimately global sea level rise.”

The report also said that the winter was the “second warmest on record for Europe, with temperatures much above average in Eastern Europe and parts of northeastern Europe”.

For much of western and southeastern Europe, the winter was drier than average, the report said.

Reduced ice cover is a major problem because it helps accelerate global warming.

About 90 percent of the solar energy that hits white sea ice is reflected back into space. But when sunlight hits dark, unfrozen ocean water, nearly the same amount of that energy is absorbed instead, directly contributing to a warming of the planet.

Both the Arctic and Antarctic regions have warmed by about three degrees Celsius compared to levels seen in the late 1800s — three times the global average.

But unlike sea ice in the northern Arctic, which has been shrinking by three percent a year since the late 1970s, sea ice in southern Antarctica has remained relatively constant over the same period, albeit with large annual variations.

However, over the past eight years, the minimum amount of sea ice in the Antarctic Ocean has been consistently below the average for the period 1991-2020.

Antarctica experienced its first recorded heat wave in 2020, with an unprecedented 9.2C above average maximum. In March last year, a research center in eastern Antarctica saw temperatures rise 40°C above normal.

Recent Australian summer ice cover has shrunk most around West Antarctica, which is more vulnerable to the effects of global warming than the much larger East Antarctica.

The record minimum sea ice extent in the Arctic — 3.4 million square kilometers (1.3 million square miles) — occurred in 2012, with the second and third lowest ice-covered areas in 2020 and 2019, respectively.

In 2021, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicted with “high certainty” that the Arctic Ocean would become practically ice-free at least once in September by the middle of the century.