Antarctic sea ice dropped to record low levels this year, and it has climate scientists and meteorologists seemingly scratching their heads, unsure of the reasons behind this latest drop.
More than 60 meteorologists and scientists from all over the globe have gathered in Hobart, Tasmania, to theorize as to the cause. They are also looking to establish if the record low levels are, or not, linked to climate change.
Dr. Jan Lieser, part of the Antarctic Climate and Ecosystems Cooperative Research Centre, said he was unsure why sea ice levels are experiencing such a “massive increase” in variability over the past few years.
The Antarctic sea ice coverage, as measured in March 2017, was reduced to 2.075 million square kilometers. This is the lowest ice coverage since satellite observations began in 1979. These lowest levels are occurring just three years after hitting a record high of more than 20 million sq km.
The Record Low Levels, A Headache for Maritime Shipping
It’s not unusual for sea ice distribution to fluctuate from year to year or even within a given year. Ice cover typically extends in the winter and retreats in the summer. However, the increasing ocean surface temperatures were noted to be melting the ice sheet from underneath. When the ice melts, fresh water is added to the saltwater in a concentration that, at the ocean’s surface, causes it to refreeze.
In recent years, however, the intensity of the fluctuations has increased dramatically. The reasons behind such volatile shifts are still rather unknown. What is very well known is that this has made ice cover expansion and reduction difficult to predict. In turn, this is also making cargo and cruise ships more vulnerable.
In 2013, a Russian ship with 52 scientists and tourist onboard got stuck in the ice in East Antarctica. These were trapped for more than a week before they could be rescued.
“Knowledge of ocean conditions is critically important for polar shipping,” Dr. Lisser said. One of the aims of the Tasmanian meeting is to develop better mapping and predicting tools, which can help prevent future such incidents.
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