Gone are the days of gradual increase of sea ice in Antarctica. 

Sadly, Antarctic sea ice is now decreasing faster than that in the Arctic. This is according to new research based on 40 years worth of satellite data. 

A senior scientist at NASA, Claire Parkinson, said that sea ice has a crucial role in the Earth’s climate. Its bright surface reflects 50% to 70% of sunlight back into space. But when sea ice melts, it turns into dark ocean surface, which absorbs 90% of the sunlight. The more light is absorbed, the warmer global systems become.

“Sea ice also affects the polar ecosystem, including penguins and whales and seals, petrels and albatrosses, krill, and a whole range of additional animals and marine plant life,” Parkinson said. 

The happenings with Antarctic sea ice baffled scientists because unlike in the Arctic ocean wherein sea ice has been steadily melting in the past decades, sea ice in Antarctica had been increasing. 

While scientists have concrete and well documented example of the dire consequences of climate change, the growth of sea ice around Antarctica had been a frequent counter-argument of the issue. 

But on Monday, research now shows that things have dramatically changed in Antarctica. Satellite data shows that the yearly increase of sea ice in Antarctica was until 2014, where it reached a record high. After that, it started decreasing “precipitously” and reached a record low in 2017. 

Parkinson, however, stated that it is still too early to determine what exactly caused the trend to reverse. 

Meanwhile, scientists were never even able to determine what causes the Antarctic sea ice to increase in 2014. 

Kaitlin Naughten, sea ice modeller at British Antarctic Survey, explained that, “This means that Antarctic sea ice doesn’t respond directly to global warming averaged over the whole planet, but rather to changes in these winds. Climate change is affecting the winds, but so is the ozone hole and short-term cycles like El Nino. The sea ice also responds to the level of ocean mixing, which is affected by meltwater from the Antarctic Ice Sheet.”

This rapid changes in the area is a new concern for scientists as the growth of the sea ice in Antarctica was an offset for some rapid losses in the Arctic. 

“Now that sea ice is retreating in both hemispheres we should be concerned about our planet’s temperature because it means less of the sun’s heat is reflected back into space,” said Andrew Shepherd, director of the Centre for Polar Observation and Modelling at the University of Leeds.

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