Sudden loss of Antarctic sea ice alarms polar researchers

Climate change

Every two years, researchers of Germany´s Alfred Wegener Institute travel to the Arctic Sea with their research vessel “Polarstern”, keeping track of climate change in the arctic environment and the consequences for life on and under the dwindling sea ice.

Marine biologist and President of the Alfred-Wegener-Institute Antje Boetius expects that an ice-free Arctic could be witnessed within a generation.

Days before the COP28 climate conference in Dubai, Boetius says that efforts to slow down climate change so far have not been sufficient. Global emissions are on track to blow past the 1.5 degrees Celsius warming limit envisioned in the 2015 Paris Agreement.


“We will go far beyond two degrees at the current trajectory of climate gas emissions,” he said, adding “This is also what science has to communicate at this COP…What this climate conference will, probably more than any other climate conference, discuss is this injustice of those feeling the hardship of climate crisis in their countries, knowing that they have had a very little amount of CO2 footprint so far. I’m talking, for example, of regions like Bangladesh, Pakistan. I’m talking for regions of the Himalaya, the mountain regions.”

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In addition to the urgency of ice reduction in the Arctic, a sudden decline of sea ice in Antarctica has shocked the scientific world. “The big struggle that we have right now in the climate and polar sciences is, why is Antarctica all of a sudden so fast? Will this trend continue? Will we really lose sea ice at that pace? And how can we stop that?” says Boetius.

For many years, until 2015, marine researchers observed a decline of sea ice in the Arctic, while there was no decline in Antarctica, until 2015. Since then, the rate of ice retreating in the Antarctic appears to be accelerating rapidly, explains Boetius.

Despite climate change warnings issued by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) since 1990, global emissions have continued to rise in the last decade, reaching their highest point in history. The summer of 2023 was the hottest on record, according to data from the European Union Climate Change Service released in September 2023.

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