SYDNEY – The sea ice surrounding Antarctica shrank to 2.15 million square kilometers (0.83 square miles) in 2018, the second lowest level on record, the Australian Antarctic Division said on Friday.
An AAD statement said that the ice sheet reached its lowest point on Feb. 18, but still remained above the 2016 record low of 2.07 million sq. km.
“Since reaching its lowest point, the sea ice has since begun its autumnal reformation and expansion around Antarctica,” said Dr. Rob Masson, of the AAD.
Masson said that in addition to Antarctic sea ice playing a crucial role in the global climate system and housing an important habitat for a wide range of micro-organisms and animals, it also impacts shipping and logistical operations in the Antarctic Ocean.
Dr. Phil Reid, a scientist from the Antarctic Bureau of Meteorology, said that his colleagues around the world have been monitoring Antarctic sea ice through satellites since the 1970s and found that sea ice has expanded below the long-term average since August 2016.
“In 2017, the winter-time maximum sea ice extent was the second lowest on record at 18.05 million sq. km, following closely on the heels of successive record highs in 2012, 2013 and 2014,” Reid said.
Scientists have yet to determine the factors contributing to the change and variability in the sea ice extent.
“Complex interactions and feedbacks between ice, atmosphere and ocean are at play, and these vary with season and region,” Dr. Massom said.