New Zealand scientists warn Antarctica's disappearing sea ice will directly impact life here

We are on notice - Antarctica's disappearing sea ice is set to directly impact life here in New Zealand.

Kiwi scientists there are working to find out what happened the last time the earth was this hot, around 125,000 ago.

Sea ice in Antarctica is melting at an alarming rate - already this year, an area 20 times the size of Aotearoa has been lost.

And that's prompted a blunt warning from New Zealand's chief scientist in Antarctica that the impact of climate change down there will have a direct effect on weather and sea levels in New Zealand.

Antarctica - incredibly vast, beautiful and complex. But Jordy Hendrikx, Antarctica New Zealand's chief scientist adviser, has a simple message.

"Climate change is really the existential crisis for humanity right now. And the impacts that we are seeing here in Antarctica have a direct impact on New Zealand, and all Kiwis should care about that," he told Newshub.

The Kiwi scientists on the ice are all about analysing that change.

"We are trying to understand how the ice sheets, the ice shelves, the sea ice, and the biodiversity is changing in response to climate change," Hendrikx said.

The change here is real. Much of the scientific work is focused on the sea ice, which freezes over every winter.

"Sea ice is changing really dramatically," Hendrikx told Newshub.

"This year alone, we are seeing that we are losing roughly 20 times the size of New Zealand in sea ice, relative to what we normally have at this time of year."

Out here is all sea ice, and it forms a protective barrier around the rest of Antarctica. And while it may seem like there is quite a lot, it is actually disappearing at a really alarming rate, which could be a real crisis for the rest of the world.

"The sea ice is a really key part of the climate system. In terms of how it buffers the energy that comes in from the sun and the amount of energy that goes into the ocean," Hendrikx warned.

"Changes in sea ice are changing our climate and our weather patterns."

The sea ice also has a key role in protecting the bigger ice shelves, and behind them, the two massive ice sheets that make up Antarctica - the east and the west. That's another big focus for the scientists.

"The west Antarctic ice sheet, if it melted tomorrow, would represent about four metres of sea level rise," Hendrikx said.

So a New Zealand-led team of scientists, engineers and drillers has just left on a mission to drill into the west sheet - an 1138km traverse across the continent.

"What that project is trying to do is understand how the warming world influences the west Antarctic ice sheet, and how stable or unstable that is, how quickly that will melt and disintegrate, and contribute to sea level rise," Hendrikx said.

They will drill down through 600 metres of ice to extract a sample of the sediment below.

The aim is to find out what happened to the ice sheet last time the world was this warm - 125,000 years ago.

"That geological record will give us a picture of what's happened in the past, when the world was warmer, and therefore be a really key proxy of what's going to happen as we continue to warm the world with climate change," Hendrikx told Newshub.

Complex work, with a simple message.

"We should be immensely worried by what happens in Antarctica. Because what happens here influences us in New Zealand," Hendrikx said.

Science in the remotest place on earth - that hits home.