Antarctic Sea Ice Reaches New Record Maximum

On Sept. 19, 2014, the five-day average of Antarctic sea ice extent exceeded 20 million square kilometers for the first time since 1979, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center. The red line shows the average maximum extent from 1979-2014. Image Credit: NASA's Scientific Visualization Studio/Cindy Starr

On Sept. 19, 2014, the five-day average of Antarctic sea ice extent exceeded 20 million square kilometers for the first time since 1979, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center. The red line shows the average maximum extent from 1979-2014.
Image Credit: NASA’s Scientific Visualization Studio/Cindy Starr

A  new record high of sea ice has been observed surrounding Antarctica. The upward trend in the Antarctic, however, is only about a third of the magnitude of the rapid loss of sea ice in the Arctic Ocean. Scientists at the Goddard Space Flight Centre embark on the mission to understand the Polar Regions opposing responses to global warming.

Since the late 1970s, the Arctic has lost an average of 20,800 square miles (53,900 km2) of ice a year, causing ecological changes in both land and marine based ecosystems. The Antarctic however, has baffled scientists at the National Snow and Ice Data Centre when on 19th September this year, they reported Antarctic sea ice extent exceeding 7.72 million square miles (20 million km2) for the first time since 1979.

Claire Parkinson, a senior scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Centre, has referred to changes in sea ice coverage as a microcosm of global climate change.

“The planet as a whole is doing what was expected in terms of warming. Sea ice as a whole is decreasing as expected, but just like with global warming, not every location with sea ice will have a downward trend in ice extent,” explains Parkinson.

Scientists attempt to identify the various components which might explain the growth of sea ice in the region. For Antarctica, key variables include the atmospheric and oceanic conditions, as well as the effects of an icy land surface, changing atmospheric chemistry, the ozone hole, months of darkness and more.

“There hasn’t been one explanation yet that I’d say has become a consensus, where people say, ‘We’ve nailed it, this is why it’s happening,’” Parkinson said. “Our models are improving, but they’re far from perfect. One by one, scientists are figuring out that particular variables are more important than we thought years ago, and one by one those variables are getting incorporated into the models.”

The Arctic continues to decrease twice as fast as the Antarctic is increasing. Studying the relationship between both Polar Regions will act as an indicator for changes in climate we can expect worldwide.

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Kira Coley
​​​​I am a freelance writer specialising in science, technology and the environment. My work has featured in many of the top professional industry magazines including the 'Marine Technology Reporter', 'Marine Scientist', 'ECO Magazine' and 'International Ocean Systems'. I write to share the fascinating wonders of science with the world and highlight the importance of technological advancements in this era of science, discovery and exploration. I have worked in many locations as a marine researcher including Sicily, Madagascar and Scotland, as well as for charities, NGOs and marine technology specialists all over the UK. I have also been recently appointed as a lecturer in science communication at the University of Portsmouth. Follow me on twitter @KiraMColey

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