New York: The sea ice around Antarctica has likely hit new record low levels this winter, the United States National Snow and Ice Data Centre (NSIDC) said on Monday.
The winter sea ice around the southernmost continent had a record low surface area when it was at its maximum size, fuelling scientists' worries that the impact of climate change at the pole is building up.
Antarctic sea ice had only reached a maximum size of 16.96 million square kilometers (6.55 million square miles) this year, as recorded on September 10, NSIDC said, as the southern hemisphere goes into spring.
The ice that packs the ocean around Antarctica reaches its largest size during the colder winter months, so the September 10 record will likely remain the maximum for this year.
"This is the lowest sea ice maximum in the 1979 to 2023 sea ice record by a wide margin," NSIDC said.
The center said that the figures were preliminary and a full analysis will be released next month.
"It's not just a record-breaking year, it's an extreme record-breaking year," Walt Meier, a senior scientist at NSIDC, said.
Global warming concerns
For decades, the Antarctic sea ice pack had been stable, even expanding slightly.
But "since August 2016, the Antarctic sea ice extent trend took a sharp downturn across nearly all months," the center said.
Researchers have cautioned that the shift can have grave repercussions for animals like penguins who breed and rear their young on the sea ice.
They warn it could also hasten global warming by reducing how much sunlight is reflected by white ice back into space.
The cause behind this shift has been a point of debate among scientists. Some are hesitant about establishing a formal link with global warming.
The downward trend is "now thought to be linked to warming in the uppermost ocean layer," the NSIDC said.
"There is some concern that this may be the beginning of a long-term trend of decline for Antarctic sea ice, since oceans are warming globally."