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“Unprecedented Arctic Antarctic Ice Conditions: Insights from Recent Study”

Dr. Babula Jena and collaborators from the National Centre for Polar and Ocean Research, in conjunction with the British Antarctic Survey, United Kingdom, recently conducted a study shedding light on the unprecedented hindrances to Antarctic ice expansion and ice retreat preceding the annual ice maximum in 2023.

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Arctic

Amidst global warming concerns, the Arctic has witnessed substantial sea ice loss over the past decade, whereas the Antarctic experienced a moderate increase until 2015, followed by a sudden decline since 2016. Notably, each summer from 2016 to 2023 saw extremely low sea ice conditions in the Antarctic, with an unprecedented slow ice expansion or retreat in 2023. The sluggish ice expansion in the Antarctic occurred before the annual maximum on September 7, 2023, with an ice extent of 16.98 million km2, 1.46 million km2 below the long-term average.

The study suggests that excessive upper-ocean heat contributed to the reduced ice expansion in 2023, while significant atmospheric circulation changes also played a crucial role. Alterations in wind patterns, such as the deepening of the Amundsen Sea Low and its eastward shift, led to strong northerly flow across the Weddell Sea, causing the ice-edge to remain southward. Similarly, rapid changes in ice extent in the Ross Sea were attributed to the strengthening of an atmospheric block, resulting in strong northerly winds off the Ross Ice Shelf.

The combination of exceptional ocean-atmospheric warming, changes in wind patterns, heat fluxes, extreme winds, and high ocean waves from polar cyclones contributed to the record low ice conditions in the Antarctic. These conditions, particularly cyclones, led to episodes of slow ice expansion or retreat, with significant impacts on global warming amplification, Southern Ocean life, regional ecosystems, ocean circulation, ice shelf stability, and sea level rise.

Despite satellite observations spanning only approximately 45 years, making it challenging to determine if the recent decrease in ice extent is part of a long-term decline projected by climate models, it’s evident that both natural climate variability and anthropogenic factors have played roles. Further investigation is needed to understand the interaction between anthropogenic forcing and climate variability within the region.

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