Feb. 17 (UPI) -- It's summer in Antarctica, and according to the British Antarctic Survey, this year's seasonal sea ice minimum in Antarctica is the smallest on record.
On February 13, the sea ice extent shrunk to just 883,015 square miles. The new low is just a smidgen less than the previous record of 884,173 square miles, set in 1997. Scientists have been using satellites to monitor and measure Antarctica's sea ice extent since 1979.
Unlike the Arctic, where sea ice extents in summer and winter have been increasingly small, Antarctic sea ice has been more erratic in recent years, making it difficult to connect short-term, regional trends with larger climatic shifts.
"Sea ice is highly variable on year-to-year time-scales and therefore the recent record maximum extent from a couple of years ago and this year's record minimum could both be the result of short- term changes rather than longer-term trends," Japes Pope, a climate scientist with the British Antarctic Survey, said in a news release.
"What's interesting is that Antarctic sea ice has been steadily increasing in size, year on year from the 1970s. So what's happening now is against the trend," Pope added. "And whilst it's significant, we won't know for a couple of years whether this is a single event or a switch away from the previously observed increase. We will now study the data with interest and look at what is causing this minimum."
Though sea ice in Antartica has, until recently, been trending upward, the southern continent's glaciers have mostly been on the retreat in recent decades.