Sea ice around Antarctica has shrunk to its smallest annual extent in decades, a record low since the United States National Snow and Ice Data Center began tracking the contraction in 1979. The level of ice floating around in the region had shrunk to 2.287 million sq km on February 13, marginally smaller than the previous low of 2.290 million sq km recorded by satellites on February 27, 1997, Reuters reported.

Ice in the frozen continent usually melts to its smallest for the year around February end when summer sets in in the southern hemisphere summer. The blocks begin to expand again in autumn. NSIDC Director Mark Serreze said the organisation would confirm the record low after making more measurements over the next few days. “Unless something funny happens, we’re looking at a record minimum in Antarctica,” he told Reuters.

The Antarctic ice has fought against the overall trend of global warming as the average extent of the sea ice expanded in several recent years. “We’ve always thought of the Antarctic as the sleeping elephant starting to stir,” Serreze said. “Well, maybe it’s starting to stir now.”

Climate change skeptics often highlighted the expanding sea ice in Antarctica to emphasise their opinion. A few scientists attributing this paradoxical phenomenon to shifts in winds and ocean currents.

Mercury across the world rose to a record high in 2016 for the third consecutive year, with more scorching days, excessive rainfall and rising sea levels. The Arctic region was 20°C warmer than average in November 2016 despite having little to no sunlight during the polar winter.