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Antarctic: Snow and Ice

Question for Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy

UIN 9992, tabled on 11 September 2017

To ask the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, what assessment his Department has made of how much ice has reduced in the Antarctic in the last five years.

Answered on

18 September 2017

In the Antarctic, there are two main forms of ice, glacial and sea ice, which, due to differences in measurement approaches, are assessed separately.

Sea ice, formed from freezing seawater, is highly variable on a year-to-year basis, and over the last 5 years (2012 - 2016) the annual average extent of sea ice has decreased by an average of about a quarter of a million square kilometres per year. In March 2017 the sea ice extent dropped to the lowest level observed since satellite monitoring began in 1978— at about 2 million square kilometres, or 27% below the mean annual minimum.

In the 5 years to mid-2016, around 550 Gigatonnes of glacial ice, which is formed from snow, were lost from the ice sheet.

For a full understanding of changes in Antarctic ice, longer-term trends should be assessed. The 5th Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change showed that the Antarctic ice sheet has been losing mass over the past two decades and, while the long term trend in Antarctic sea ice extent has shown a small increase, there are strong regional differences, with extent increasing in some regions and decreasing in others.