Quantcast
Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

Antarctica Lost Sea Ice 4x the Size of France in 3 Years

Climate
Sea ice off the coast of Antarctica's Collins glacier on King George Island. MATHILDE BELLENGER / AFP / Getty Images

A swath of Antarctica's sea ice larger than four times the size of France has melted since 2014, AFP reported Tuesday.


The rapid decline, revealed in a study of satellite data published by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, marks a stunning reversal for the South Pole: Between 1979 and 2014, its sea ice was actually expanding. Then, it lost 2.1 million square kilometers (approximately 810,815 square miles) in three years, falling from 12.8 million square kilometers (approximately 4.9 million square miles) to 10.7 million square kilometers (approximately 4.1 million square miles).

"It went from its 40-year high in 2014, all the way down in 2017 to its 40-year low," study author and NASA Goddard Space Flight Center climatologist Claire Parkinson told AFP.

That also means that Antarctica rapidly caught up with the fast-melting Arctic. In four years, it lost as much sea ice as the Arctic lost in 34, The Guardian reported.

Scientists are still uncertain if the melting trend will continue or reverse again, and whether the climate crisis is to blame.

Parkinson told New Scientist that there was a similar rapid melt period in the 1970s followed by an expansion of ice, and the ice did begin to increase again between 2017 and 2018 before dipping to a new low record low for this time of year.

Sea ice in the Antarctic responds to more than just global temperature, as British Antarctic Survey sea ice expert Kaitlin Naughten told The Guardian.

"Westerly winds which surround the continent mean that Antarctic sea ice doesn't respond directly to global warming averaged over the whole planet," Naughten explained. "Climate change is affecting the winds, but so is the ozone hole and short-term cycles like El Niño. The sea ice is also affected by meltwater running off from the Antarctic ice sheet. Until 2014, the total effect of all these factors was for Antarctic sea ice to expand. But in 2014, something flipped, and the sea ice has since declined dramatically. Now scientists are trying to figure out exactly why this happened."

But even if the melting isn't caused by climate change, it could make it worse. That's because the bright white of sea ice reflects 50 to 70 percent of sunlight back into space, Parkinson told CNN. Dark ocean water, on the other hand, absorbs 90 percent of that light.

"The rapid decline has caught us by surprise and changes the picture completely. Now sea ice is retreating in both hemispheres and that presents a challenge because it could mean further warming." Leeds University professor Andrew Shepherd told The Guardian.

Sea ice loss does not contribute directly to sea level rise, but it does displace the wildlife that depends on the ice.

"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 told CNN.

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

The buildings of downtown Los Angeles are partially obscured at midday on November 5, 2019 as seen from Pasadena, California. Mario Tama / Getty Images.

By Ajit Niranjan

Two main risk factors are currently known to raise the chance of dying from the novel coronavirus that has brought the world to a halt: being old and having a weak immune system.

Air pollution makes the second of those more likely.

Read More Show Less
Hospital workers applaud during a tribute to the essential health care workers at Hospital Universitario de Mostoles in Mostoles, Spain on March 27, 2020. Legan P. Mace / SOPA Images / LightRocket via Getty Images

By Jennifer Cheavens and David Cregg

The world is currently in the midst of a pandemic where the most useful thing many of us can do is stay at home and keep away from others. Schools, restaurants, office buildings and movie theaters are closed. Many people are feeling disoriented, disconnected and scared.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Essential farm workers continue to work as Florida agriculture industry struggles during coronavirus pandemic. Joe Raedle / Getty Images.

By Liz Carlisle

This opinion piece was originally published by Yes! Magazine on March 30, 2020.

As the coronavirus crisis has laid bare, the U.S. urgently needs a strategic plan for farmland. The very lands we need to ensure community food security and resilience in the face of crises like this pandemic and climate change are currently being paved over, planted to chemically raised feed grains for factory farm animals, and acquired by institutional investors and speculators. For far too long, the fate of farmlands has flown under the radar of public dialogue—but a powerful new proposal from think tank Data for Progress lays out how a national strategic plan for farmland could help boost economic recovery while putting the U.S. on a path to carbon neutrality.

Read More Show Less
A worker with nonprofit organization Martha's Table loads bags of fresh produce to distribute to people in need during the novel coronavirus outbreak on April 1, 2020 in Washington, DC. Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

By Shawn Radcliffe

The CDC recommends that all people wear cloth face masks in public places where it's difficult to maintain a 6-foot distance from others. This will help slow the spread of the virus from people without symptoms or people who do not know they have contracted the virus. Cloth face masks should be worn while continuing to practice social distancing. Instructions for making masks at home can be found here. Note: It's critical to reserve surgical masks and N95 respirators for healthcare workers.

Read More Show Less
Coral bleaching in the Great Barrier Reef in 2016. Oregon State University / CC BY-SA 2.0

The Great Barrier Reef's third mass bleaching event in five years is also its most widespread, according to new data released Tuesday.

Read More Show Less