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No quick fix to reverse sea ice loss in Antarctica as warming intensifies

By David Stanway

SINGAPORE (Reuters) – Sea ice in the Antarctic region has fallen to an all-time low this year due to rising global temperatures and there is no quick fix to reverse the damage done, scientists said Tuesday in a new study of the impact of climate change on the continent.

The continent’s minimum summer ice cover, which dipped below 2 million square kilometers (772,000 square miles) last year for the first time since satellite monitoring began in 1978, sank further to a new low in February, according to a study published in the journal Frontiers at Milieukunde.

“It will take decades if not centuries for these things to recover. There is no quick fix to replace this ice,” said Caroline Holmes, a polar climate scientist at the British Antarctic Survey and one of the study’s co-authors.

“It will certainly take a long time, even if it is possible,” she told reporters during a briefing.

This year’s sea ice minimum is 20% lower than the average for the past 40 years, equivalent to a sea ice loss nearly 10 times greater than New Zealand’s area, said Tim Naish, director of the Antarctic Research Center at Victoria University of Wellington in Australia. who did not participate in the study.

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“In some cases we are getting close to tipping points, which once crossed will lead to irreversible changes with unstoppable consequences for future generations,” Naish said.

Global warming caused by the burning of fossil fuels has made Antarctica more vulnerable to extreme events, and the impact will “almost certainly” get worse, the study said.

Climate change will “lead to increases in size and frequency” of heat waves, ice shelf collapses and decreases in sea ice, it said, based on recent evidence from scientific studies of the Antarctic ocean, atmosphere, cryosphere and biosphere.

The exact impact of climate change on Antarctica and the surrounding ocean is uncertain, and scientists have struggled to measure how much global warming affects the thickness of Antarctic ice.

But based on phenomena such as the rapid reduction in sea ice, it is “scientifically reasonable” to assume that extreme events will increase as global temperatures rise, said Martin Siegert, a glaciologist at the University of Exeter and another co-author. -author.

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Last year, an “atmospheric river” originating in Australia drove subtropical heat and humidity into the continent, causing unprecedented temperatures of up to 38.5 degrees Celsius (69.3 Fahrenheit) above normal, the largest deviation from norm the world has ever experienced .

Siegert described the rise in temperature as “absolutely astonishing”, adding that if it had happened during the Antarctic summer, rather than winter, it would have resulted in melting on the surface of the East Antarctic Ice Sheet, which has been hitherto from melting. has been spared.

“Antarctica is a fragile environment, but extreme events put that vulnerability to the test,” he said. “What we are deeply concerned about is the increase in intensity and frequency of extreme events and the cascading impacts they have on other areas.”

(Reporting by David Stanway; editing by Edmund Klamann)

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