Lowest Extent Ever Observed since 1979's Satellite Record

Lowest Extent Ever Observed since 1979's Satellite Record ...

Antarctica's sea ice extent as of February 21, 2023. Annotated with the 1981-2010 median sea ice extent.

The long-term trend for sea ice in the south remains stable, while the global trend tends downward.

Sea ice around Antarctica reached its lowest level since 1979, but the long-term trend for sea ice in southern polar waters is basically flat; it is the declines in sea ice at the other pole, in the Arctic, that are driving the global sea ice trend downward.

On February 21, 2023, sea ice around Antarctica reached its lowest extent, at 1.79 million square kilometers (691,000 square miles). That's 130,000 square kilometers (50,000 square miles) below the previous record-low of February 25, 2022, a difference that accounts for an area roughly the size of New York state.

Antarctic Sea Ice extent in millions of square kilometers (Figure 1)

The green outline shows the median sea ice extent for February from 1981 to 2010. Half the extents were larger than the yellow line, and half were smaller.

Prior to 2016, sea ice levels in the Antarctic were generally headed somewhat upward in all months, but several years have reached new lows, including in 2017, 2022, and now 2023.

“There has been discussion about the Antarctic sea ice being regime-shifted since 2016 toward a generally lower extent,” said Walt Meier, a sea ice scientist at the National Snow and Ice Data Center. “It is difficult to determine if this is a sustained and ongoing multi-year trend,” says Walt Meier.

Lauren Dauphin of the NASA Earth Observatory uses data from the National Snow and Ice Data Center to create images.

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