Ice is Nice!
The Arctic ice may be shrinking faster than ever, but is the Antarctic ice growing? Even though the Arctic ice may be melting, the Antarctic seems to be gaining more ice. In late September, satellite data showed the vast change of sea ice in Antarctica. Antartica was actually surrounded by the largest amount of sea ice ever recorded. The National Snow and Ice Data Center announced that the Antarctic had increased by 1% since last year, resulting in a total area of 7.51 million square miles. Even though 1% may not seem that significant, it is better that the Antarctic is slowly gaining ice rather than losing ice. The ice that the Antarctic is gaining doesn’t seem to fit in with the massive loss of ice the Arctic has sustained. How can the Antarctic be gaining ice in a world where Arctic ice is quickly melting because of the rising temperatures and higher CO2 levels? Eric Rignot, a NASA researcher and earth systems professor at UC Irvine has an answer to this puzzling question.
If the world was warming up uniformly, you would expect the sea ice cover to decrease in the Antarctic, but it’s not. The reason for that is because the Antarctic is cooler than the rest of the world. It’s warming up as well but not as fast as other places.
So you have the warming world and a cold Antarctica, and the difference between the two is increasing. That makes the winds around Antarctica move a little bit faster. There’s also a difference that comes from the depletion of ozone in the stratosphere in the Antarctic, which makes the stratosphere colder.
That’s the leading explanation for what we’re seeing in the Antarctic, but you have to acknowledge that the effect is very small.
If the Antarctic Ice is in fact increasing, then why is the Arctic ice melting? Antarctica is it’s own continent and is separated from the rest of the world by a large amount of water and wind, therefore the climate and temperature are a little different from the Arctic. The Arctic is more closely connected to the rest of the world and closer to countries with large CO2 emissions while Antarctica is it’s own continent separated from the rest of the world by freezing waters and chilly winds.
So with the Antarctic ice growing, does this mean that global warming isn’t happening? The answer is no. As you can see from the scientific quote above, the Antarctic just happens to be colder than global warming currently therefore making it increase ice area. Global warming is still happening even though the Antarctic is gaining ice. Even with the worrisome loss of Arctic ice, at least the Antarctic ice has increased in the past year and shows us that ice really is nice!
Sea ice extent around Antarctica on September 26. Yellow line shows median September sea ice extent from 1979 to 2000.
Illustration courtesy Jesse Allen, EO/NASA/NSIDC