After mysteriously expanding for decades, Antarctica’s sea ice cover melted by an area four times greater than France in just a few years and now stands at a record low, according to a study published on Monday.
Scientists already knew Antarctica was thawing at an increasing rate, like the Arctic, because of accelerating discharge from glaciers, the rivers of ice that push up slowly against the shore.
But between 1979 and 2014, they observed a phenomenon that was both intriguing and reassuring: the sea ice cover was expanding.
From 2014 to 2017, however, “the Antarctic lost almost as much as the Arctic” over almost 40 years, NASA climatologist Claire Parkinson said, and the trend has continued ever since.
From a peak area of 12.8 million square kilometers, the sea ice cover receded two million square kilometers for reasons that remain unknown.
“It went from its 40-year high in 2014, all the way down in 2017 to its 40-year low,” said Parkinson, whose findings were published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).
The team analysed microwave measurements from NASA and military satellites over the period to build up the most precise picture to date of the historic sea ice cover, measuring only area but not thickness. — AFP