Hundreds of scientists are calling for Southern Ocean monitoring to be urgently expanded so "astonishing" Antarctic sea ice losses can be better understood.
Some 300 scientists from 25 countries issued a joint statement on Friday at the conclusion of the Southern Ocean Observing System (SOOS) conference in Hobart.
They describe a chronic lack of data about the Southern Ocean, which encircles Antarctica.
Record high temperatures and low levels of sea ice, as well as dramatic shifts in penguin populations, are among "striking" recent changes in the region.
SOOS scientific steering committee member Dr Andrew Meijers said the Southern Ocean absorbs about 40 per cent of the carbon dioxide that ends up in the world's seas.
"Global warming is really ocean warming," he said.
"The Southern Ocean controls the rate of melt of the Antarctic ice sheet, which is the single greatest uncertainty in projecting future sea level rise."
Dr Meijers said the cost of monitoring the top two kilometres of the majority of the earth's ocean totalled $40 million in Australian dollars.
He said a similar commitment in the Southern Ocean would revolutionise understanding of the region.
"Rapid changes happening in Antarctica and the Southern Ocean right now create an imperative for additional research funding," he said.
SOOS co-chair Dr Sian Henley said despite the efforts of long-term programs by several countries, the Southern Ocean remained one of the most under-observed regions on the planet.
"The astonishing losses of sea ice we are seeing over winter are posing serious threat to Southern Ocean ecosystems," she said.
"Species rely on the sea ice for their habitat, feeding grounds and to have and raise their young.
"These ecosystems are really in peril."
The federal government in early 2022 released an update to its Antarctic strategy and 20-year action plan.
Studying the vital role of Antarctica and the Southern Ocean in climate and weather to improve understanding and inform management responses is described as a "priority theme".
An Australian Antarctic Division spokesman said Australia supports and will continue to support critical long-term monitoring of Antarctica and the Southern Ocean.
"The Australian Antarctic Program conducts world-class scientific climate and ecosystem research in the Southern Ocean that supports global climate policy and decision-making," he said.
"Projects which are undertaken on the Southern Ocean are highly collaborative, bringing together researchers from across Australia and around the world."
The SOOS describes its mission as facilitating the sustained collection and delivery of essential observations of the Southern Ocean.
The federal government has been contacted for comment.
Australian Associated Press
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