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Antarctic Sea Ice Soars, But Arctic Ice Still Shrinking

Sep 18, 2014 10:30 AM EDT
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For the third year in a row, Antarctica's sea ice is set to smash a new record this month. But while Antarctica's sea ice soars, the Arctic ice cap is still shrinking, making scientists ponder over the effects of global warming, a new report released Tuesday imparts.

September is the month that usually sees the highest extent of Antarctic sea ice as the Southern Hemisphere winter ends, and Arctic ice reaches its all-time low as it says goodbye to the dog days of summer.

The Southern Hemisphere's unrelenting winds and frigid air froze ocean water into 7.6 million square miles (19.7 million square kilometers) of Antarctic sea ice this winter, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC).

(Photo : NSIDC)

At this rate, Antarctica could soar well above the records set in 2012 and 2013. For now, only 88,800 square miles (230,000 square kilometers) separate the 2013 and 2014 high marks.

But while Antarctica boasts record-breaking ice growth, the picture in the Arctic looks a bit different. In fact, Arctic ice shrank to its sixth-lowest level on record since satellite tracking started in 1979, NSIDC scientists report.

"In the short term, it seems like there hasn't been much ice loss in the past couple of years, but I think it's still very much within the long-term trend of declining sea ice," Axel Schweiger, chairman of the University of Washington's Polar Science Center in Seattle, told Live Science. "One shouldn't necessarily expect every year to be a record low."

This week, Arctic sea ice extent - that is, the total ocean area in which the ice concentration is at least 15 percent - was at 1.96 million square miles. The average minimum is usually about 2.37 million square miles.

At both poles, sea ice ebbs and flows with the summer heat and winter cold, though in the Arctic, more ice usually sticks around than these reports indicate.

With the Arctic warming twice as fast compared to the rest of the world, the region's summer sea ice has declined by about 30 percent since 1979.

Scientists naturally suspect global warming is responsible for both Antarctica's surprising increase and the Arctic's long-term dwindling of sea ice. However, the link between climate change and melting ice is clearer in the Arctic than in Antarctica.

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