Sea ice cover in Antarctica down to second-lowest on record

Sea ice cover in Antarctica appears to be down to its second-lowest on record. According to Australian researchers, floating ice extended over a relatively small area in Antarctica this winter, which they attribute to warming in the region.

Antarctica's frozen ocean water melts during the spring and summer and with temperatures dropping in the autumn and winter, the ice cover grows again to its maximum extent.

Researchers have been continuously measuring Antarctica sea ice since 1979. They used the latest satellite data and mapped 2.15 million square kilometers ice cover surrounding the continent during the lowest point in February this summer season. The previous minimum extent of 2.07 million square kilometers occurred in March 2017.

Last year, Antarctic sea ice numbers were recorded to be almost their lowest, with total polar sea ice covering 18.05 million square miles, which is the near record-lows for the wintertime maximum sea ice cover.

''Since August 2016, the sea ice coverage has been tracking well below the long-term average," Bureau of Meteorology Antarctic scientist Phil Reid said in a statement.

''In 2017, the winter maximum sea ice extent was the second lowest on record at 18.05 kilometers following closely on the heels of successive record highs of successive record highs in 2012, 2013 and 2014."

According to Reid, these record lows for sea ice in Antarctica represent a significant departure from the trend seen recently, with roughly 1.7 per cent increase in each decade since 1979. He said, the changes in the climate may be responsible for the sharp tapering off of the growth of ice cover.

Australian Antarctic Division scientist Rob Massom also issued a statement, reinforcing the importance of learning the reason behind the observed trend.

''The ice cover plays a crucially important role both in the global climate system and as a key habitat for a wide range of biota from micro-organisms to great whales…Sea ice conditions also have a major impact on shipping and logistical operations in the Southern Ocean.''