Antarctic sea ice levels are at a very concerning low, usually by this time in Antarctica the ice caps grow, extending the ice sheets to their usual expansion. But, it is currently winter down South and the ice caps have seen everything but growth. Hitting record lows, this stunt in ice growth has experts and scientists alarmed. For centuries the ice caps have risen and fell at a steady pace during the winter season, but this year [2023] the ice levels sit at 4 million square kilometers less than they should be. From 1979 to present day, the ice caps have been annually recorded and observed to keep a record of any abnormalities, stunts, increases in growth, and so on. Now is one of those instances that the observations show alarming results.

Scientists believe this drop to be a major concern for the surrounding oceans, lands, and overall ecosystems. The ice caps regulate ocean and air temperatures, circulate ocean water, and keep a stable ecosystem for the microorganisms to penguins that inhabit these cold regions. Climate change, and in turn global warming are the main causes of this abnormal phenomenon. With aquatic and terrain surface temperatures increasing, ice caps fall under the category of a “surface,” so they are also getting shocked with the extensive heat. The faster and more consistent the heat rises, the faster the ice melts, in turn destabilizing all the circulatory elements that depend on that stability.

Less ice means less protection to the waters below from the solar rays, inevitably heating up the water temperature. This can also cause a spike of increased sea levels—as the melts, it becomes more malleable to breakage exposing itself to floating into the open ocean, where it can increase sea levels in regions that could devastate the land. This record low can ultimately signal a shift in the sea ice system and cause a potential domino effect of extremes. Both native species of penguins residing in Antarctica rely on the ice sheets for shelter and food. The Adélie penguins eat krill as their main food source, but less ice means less krill. The Emperor penguin depends heavily on the ice sheets as they lay their eggs and raise their offspring on these floating pieces of land. For the Emperor penguins, chicks need to develop a layer of waterproof feathers to help them swim through the water; if the ice melts to the point where chicks are diving in before they’re ready, they could drown and increase the mortality rate.

The sea ice also serves as a protective barrier, or moat, around Antarctica, covering the continental ice sheet and its adjoining glaciers. These two natural elements have already been hit with the effects of global warming, and are experiencing fast paced erosion. If the shield eventually dissipates, the continental ice sheets can break off and fall into the open ocean, again, causing an alarming rise in sea levels. Research Scientist, Xiaojun Yuan from Columbia University believes that the low will stay consistent throughout the usual peak month of September, and continue on till early 2024.