Antarctic ice has set an unexpected record, and scientists are struggling to figure out why

Mar 2, 2017

By Chris Mooney

There’s no mistaking it now. Even though we don’t have the final numbers, it is abundantly clear that the sea ice ringing the Antarctic continent has fallen precipitously — reaching a record low just a few short years after it reached a record high.

In 38 years of records dating back to 1979, the sea ice lows seen as of the end of February 2017 — a time of year when ice in the Antarctic is at its annual minimum — are unprecedented. The area of ocean covered by sea ice still appears to be shrinking, but as of Feb. 28, there were just 2.131 million square kilometers of floating ice surrounding Antarctica, according to near-real time data provided by the National Snow and Ice Data Center.

That’s much less than the prior low of 2.29 million square kilometers on Feb. 27, 1997. The difference — about 159,000 square kilometers, or 61,390 square miles — amounts to an area nearly as large as Florida.

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