Researchers are reporting that Antarctica has suffered its second-worst spring and summer melt ever.
The Australian Antarctic Division released the findings, and found the sea ice reached its lowest point on Feb. 18.
Satellite data showed a total 2.15 million square kilometres of sea ice surrounding the continent, which is just slightly more than the least amount of sea ice recorded in March 2017.
Dr. Phil Reid of the Bureau of Meteorology Antarctic said researchers have been using daily satellite observations of the Antarctic sea ice since the 1970s to track its shrinkage and growth, and the findings have been highly variable.
WATCH: Scientists heading on expedition to Antarctica to view new ecosystem following iceberg’s split from ice shelf
According to Reid, successive record highs reported in 2012, 2013 and 2014 preceded a pattern of rapid melt.
“Since August 2016, the sea ice coverage has been tracking well below the long-term average,” Dr. Reid said in a statement posted on the Australian Antarctic Division’s website. “These variations are a significant departure from an overall increasing trend in Antarctic sea ice of about 1.7 per cent each decade since 1979.”
According to Dr. Rob Massom from the Australian Antarctic Division, researchers are not completely sure what is causing the drastic fluctuations in sea ice melt.
“Complex interactions and feedbacks between the ice, atmosphere and ocean are at play, and these vary with season and region,” Massom said. “Understanding the processes driving sea ice variability and change in the Southern Ocean surrounding Antarctica is a high priority, given the importance of sea ice in the Earth system and the need for improved sea ice forecasting.
WATCH: Antarctic researchers show extent of 2018 sea ice melt