As the Northern Hemisphere swelters under a record-breaking summer heat wave, much further south, in the depths of winter, another terrifying climate record is being broken. Antarctic sea ice has fallen to unprecedented lows for this time of year, writes CNN.

Every year, Antarctic sea ice shrinks to its lowest levels towards the end of February, during the continent’s summer. The sea ice then builds back up over the winter. But this year scientists have observed something different.

The sea ice has not returned to expected levels. In fact it is at the lowest levels for this time of year since records began 45 years ago. The ice is around 1.6 million square kilometers (0.6 million square miles) below the previous winter record low set in 2022, according to data from the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC).

In mid-July, Antarctica’s sea ice was 2.6 million square kilometers (1 million square miles) below the 1981 to 2010 average. That is an area nearly as large as Argentina or the combined areas of Texas, California, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, Utah, and Colorado.

Scientists began to observe a sharp downward trend from 2016. Many of them believe that climate change may be the main factor behind the disappearance of the ice.

“The Antarctic system has always been highly variable,” Scambos said. “This [current] level of variation, though, is so extreme that something radical has changed in the past two years, but especially this year, relative to all previous years going back at least 45 years.”

According to him, the loss of sea ice is influenced by several factors, in particular the strength of the westerly winds around Antarctica, which are associated with an increase in pollution, which leads to a warming of the planet. This winter’s unprecedented phenomenon could signal long-term changes to the isolated continent.

According to the report of the Copernicus Climate Change Service and the World Meteorological Organization, July 2023 will bethe hottest in the entire history of observations on the planet.