"Are we awakening this giant of Antarctica?"

New Normal

Antarctic sea ice continues to reach dire new lows.

As the BBC reports, new satellite imagery from the National Snow and Ice Data Center reveals that sea ice levels at our planet's South Pole reached yet another record low for its winter season in mid-September.

According to a recent study published in the journal Nature, this is the third time in just seven years that Antarctica's sea ice has broken the same record — a sign, perhaps, that Earth's southernmost point may be settling into a troubling new normal.

As Walter Meier, senior research scientist at the National Snow and Ice Data Center, told the BBC: "It's so far outside anything we've seen, it's almost mind-blowing."

Awakening the Giant

The Antarctic sea ice is incredibly important. In addition to the threat of sea ice melt contributing to rising ocean levels and habitat loss for Antarctic dwellers, our planet's frozen polar zones also serve as a protective solar shield, deflecting the Sun's rays away from the Earth.

In simple terms, the more ice melts, the less Sun protection the Earth has — thus making each of these problems worse. And sadly, according to scientists who work in the region, the denigration of sea ice is palpable.

"We can see how much more vulnerable it is," University of Manitoba researcher Robbie Mallett, who's based in the Antarctic, told the BBC, adding that such fragility may ultimately make it much harder for scientists like himself to study the region and its ice.

"There is a risk that it breaks off," Mallett told the broadcaster, "and drifts out to sea with us on it."

Antarctic melt has already contributed to sea level creep; back in 2020, scientists determined that the continent's thawing ice sheets had caused a 7.2-millimeter increase in global sea levels since the early 1990s.

While that may not sound like much, the current excess in ocean water is already making an impact on coastlines and island nations. Recently, the indigenous peoples of the Pacific island of Carti Sugtupu made the heartbreaking decision to flee their sinking island home before it's too late, while some US states, particularly Louisiana, are losing staggering amounts of land mass to Earth's rising oceans.

"Are we awakening this giant of Antarctica?" Martin Siegert, a glaciologist at the University of Exeter, told the BBC, adding that there are "very, very good reasons to be worried."

"It's potentially a really alarming sign of Antarctic climate change that hasn't been there for the last 40 years," the glaciologist continued. "And it's only just emerging now."

More on sea level rise: Residents Flee Island as It Sinks into the Ocean

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