Climate Change

Sea ice on both poles at record low, finds WMO report

Antarctic sea ice cover at record low for 2nd consecutive year; Arctic sea ice extent is also at an all-time minimum 

By Himanshu Nitnaware
Published: Friday 10 March 2023
Satellite records show that Arctic ice is warming more than twice compared with average global warming. Photo: iStock__

Sea ice levels in Antarctica shrunk to the lowest on record in February for the second consecutive year, according to United Nations meteorological agency. Arctic sea ice extent is also at an all-time minimum.

The findings, February sees low sea ice and extreme weather, were published by World Meteorological Organization (WMO) on March 9, 2023. 

Sea ice extent is the area of ice spread across the Arctic Ocean at any given time. The sea ice bounces sunlight back into space, thus playing a crucial role in maintaining ocean and air temperatures, which is important for the survival of life. 

Read more: Change status of emperor penguins to ‘vulnerable’: Study

The ice spread influences the global, regional and local weather conditions and vice versa, according to WMO’s annual Global Climate report. 

Globally, 2023 saw the fifth-warmest February, with EU experiencing the second-warmest winter for the second consecutive year, found European Union’s Copernicus Climate Change Service. 

Satellite records show that Arctic ice is warming more than twice compared with average global warming, causing it to retreat dramatically over 45 years, the WMO report said. 

Sea ice is retreating by 13 per cent per decade, according to United States National Aeronautics and Space Administration. 

Sea ice extent was second joint record lowest by the end of winter freezing point during February. It was 1.12 million square kilometres below the 1981 and 2010 average in terms of area, the US’s National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) and Copernicus noted.

January and February registered record low sea ice extent for Antarctica and, by February end, registered 1.83 million square kilometres. This is about 93,000 square kilometres less against the record seasonal minimum of February 2022. 

Throughout 2022, the sea ice extent was overall low in Antarctica and new ice formation is thinner and more fragile than normal, WMO further noted.

Read more: Iceberg twice the area of New York City to break off Antarctica

Scientists are yet to determine whether the occurrence resulted from natural weather fluctuation or the long-term melting trend due to climate change is to be blamed for the same. The event can seriously affect sea level rise if the thinner ice formation is due to the latter. 

Antarctica’s sea ice extent — known for showing large inter-annual and regional variability between west, east and Antarctic peninsula, the northwest tip near South America — may be changing. Since 2016, the regional variably has reduced, which has contributed to lower ice extents. 

The Antarctic Peninsula is warming at almost 3 degrees Celsius, making it one of the fastest warming regions in the past 50 years. 

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