Floating Antarctic ice goes from record high to record lows

Floating Antarctic ice goes from record high to record lows

This January 2017 photo provided by Ted Scambos shows sea ice on the ocean surrounding Antarctica during an expedition to the Ross Sea. Ice in the ocean off the southern continent steadily increased from 1979 and hit a record high in 2014. But three years later, the annual average extent of Antarctic sea ice hit its lowest mark, wiping out three-and-a-half decades of gains, and then some, according to a study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on Monday, July 1, 2019. (Ted Scambos/National Snow and Ice Data Center via AP)

The amount of ice circling Antarctica is suddenly plunging from a record high to record lows, baffling scientists.

Floating ice off the southern continent steadily increased from 1979 and hit a record high in 2014. But three years later, the annual average extent of Antarctic sea ice hit its lowest mark, wiping out three-and-a-half decades of gains — and then some, a NASA study of satellite data shows.

In recent years, “things have been crazy,” said Mark Serreze, director of the National Snow and Ice Data Center. In an email, he called the plummeting ice levels “a white-knuckle ride.”

Serreze and other outside experts said they don’t know if this is a natural blip that will go away or more long-term global warming that is finally catching up with the South Pole. Antarctica hasn’t showed as much consistent warming as its northern Arctic cousin.

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