Sea ice in the Antarctic has shrunk to its lowest level since records began nearly four decades ago, preliminary U.S. satellite data has shown.


Figures from the U.S. National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) on Wednesday show that sea ice in the frozen continent covered just 2.26 million square km on Tuesday, lower than the lowest level seen around this time in 1997.

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Mark Serreze, director of the NSIDC, told reporters that the new data still need to be confirmed with a few days of measurements.

The sea ice is likely to decrease further as it usually melts to its smallest for the year at the end of February in the summer of southern hemisphere.

Sea ice at both poles has been expected to decline as the Earth heats up due to man-made global warming. However, the conditions in the Antarctic are much more variable.

The average extent of sea ice around the South Pole has tended to expand in many recent years and hit a record high of around 20.16 million square km in September 2014.

The Arctic is a polar region located at the northernmost part of Earth. The Arctic consists of the Arctic Ocean, adjacent seas, and parts of Alaska (United States), Canada, Finland, Greenland (Denmark), Iceland, Norway, Russia, and Sweden. Land within the Arctic region has seasonally varying snow and ice cover, with predominantly treeless permafrost-containing tundra. Arctic seas contain seasonal sea ice in many places.

The Arctic region is a unique area among Earth’s ecosystems. For example, the cultures in the region and the Arctic indigenous peoples have adapted to its cold and extreme conditions. In recent years, Arctic sea ice decline has been caused by global warming. Life in the Arctic includes organisms living in the ice, zooplankton and phytoplankton, fish and marine mammals, birds, land animals, plants and human societies. Arctic land is bordered by the subarctic.