Advances in Atmospheric Sciences, 19 April 2022
During February of this year, the Antarctic sea ice cover shrank below two million square kilometers for the first time since the satellite record began in 1978. Rising global temperatures in combination with the full force of several global climate patterns produced this record-breaking low. Unusually strong wind currents over the Amundsen, Bellingshausen, and Weddell Seas carried more heat into Antarctica and redirected the flow of sea ice into warmer waters. As the ice disappeared, the dark surface of the ocean absorbed more sunlight, further warming the waters and melting more ice in a feedback loop that increases sea ice loss. In the past five years, Antarctic sea ice loss has broken the long-term record twice. Although neither as large nor as sensitive to global warming as Arctic sea ice, Antarctic sea ice is still a critical part of the Antarctic ecosystem. Not only does it provide a resting place and hunting ground for local species, but it also helps stabilize the continent’s ice shelves and thereby glaciers, which would otherwise drain more rapidly into the sea and raise global sea levels even faster.