Sea-ice levels at historic low in Antarctica

Other species such as krill, an important species in the Southern Ocean food web, as well as animals that live on the ice, such as Weddell and crabeater seals could be impacted.

Scientists are still trying to identify why the sea-ice is at such a low, but a shortage of historical information means much remains unknown.

“There is a chance that it’s a really freak expression of natural variability,” Meier said, meaning many natural factors could be affecting the region simultaneously.

This year’s record-warm oceans are likely a contributing factor as warm water will not freeze, while there may have also been changes in ocean currents and the winds that drive temperatures in the Antarctic.

The El Nino weather phenomenon, currently developing in the Pacific, could also be contributing.

Dr Robbie Mallet, who is based on the Antarctic peninsula, said it is becoming apparent “how much more vulnerable” Antarctica is to climate change than previously thought.

Melting: The Thwaites glacier in Antarctica.

Melting: The Thwaites glacier in Antarctica. Credit: AP

There are “very, very good reasons to be worried”, he told the BBC.

“It’s potentially a really alarming sign of Antarctic climate change that hasn’t been there for the last 40 years. And it’s only just emerging now.”

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