As rising global temperatures alter the landscape of the Arctic, scientists are observing what promises to be a new record at the other end of the globe. In fact, preliminary data from the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) in Boulder, Colorado, indicate that the extent of sea ice in Antarctica has decreased to an area of 1.98 million square kilometres, falling below the previous record low – 2.1 million square kilometres – recorded in March 2017. This is the smallest area ever recorded since satellite surveys began in the late 1970s.
Such a decrease in Antarctic sea ice could lead us to believe that climate change is the cause. In reality, it is not necessarily so. Unlike the Arctic, where scientists say climate change is accelerating its impacts, the extent of Antarctic sea ice is highly variable. While it is true that the lowest point was reached in 2017, the positive record for ice extent was recorded in 2014, in stark contrast to the global warming trend.
“What’s happening in Antarctica is an extreme event,” Ted Scambos, a glaciologist at the University of Colorado Boulder and chief scientist at NSIDC, told Galileus Web. Antarctic and Arctic sea ice, as well as mountain glaciers, follow different dynamics, and although many experts agree that global warming will decrease the extent of Antarctic ice, this cause-and-effect relationship has not yet been supported by solid scientific evidence. For climate scientists, therefore, the behaviour of Antarctica is still largely unknown.