Water And Oceanography

Why Antarctic Ice is Growing while Arctic Ice is Melting



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"Why Antarctic Ice is Growing while Arctic Ice is Melting"
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For many, differentiating between Antarctic and Arctic ice is a challenge. Although the two continents can be differentiated by their geographical locations, many do not realize that there are many other differences existing between the two landmasses. For one, polar bears live only in the Arctic, while the penguins live only in the Antarctic. However, for many decades, scientists were grappling with the paradoxical phenomenon of an expanding ice mass in the Antarctic and a gradually depleting ice mass in the Arctic. A recent study has shed light on a potential reason for this paradoxical change although it will take many more years for researchers to agree on any kind of explanation, given the multiple factors which can affect the ice masses of the world.

Overview of Arctic and Antarctic ice masses

Before discussing the recent research findings, it is important to understand the differences between the two ice masses. In general, Arctic ice has more potential to expand and to last longer due to its cramped geographical location. This means that because of the surrounding landmasses, the Arctic sea ice is not free to move away from the Arctic waters and therefore will be more likely to give rise to ice ridges. Furthermore, due to the formation of ice ridges, the meltdown that takes place during summer months would be much less than when compared with the Antarctic sea ice. The Antarctic ice mass, on the other hand, is completely surrounded by the sea and the sea ice is therefore free to move around and float toward the warmer currents. This means that the melting of the Antarctic ice mass during summer months is much higher than when compared with the Arctic ice masses.

The paradoxical change between the Antarctic and Arctic ice masses

However, scientists claim that global warming has changed the general understanding of the evolution of Arctic and Antarctic ice masses during the past few decades. According to them, statistics reveal an increase in the ice mass in Antarctic and depletion in ice mass in the Arctic. The expansion in the ice mass in the Arctic is notable during the autumn and winter months. However, until now, scientists were unable to determine the phenomenon behind this paradoxical change.

The effect of global warming

In a recent study, scientists have uncovered that global warming has led to the melting of ice in the Antarctic base underneath the massive ice cover. The resulting cold and fresh water, having a lower density than the warmer and salty seawater, will form a superficial layer in the Antarctic region. The cold-water layer formed in the region will provide cover to the sea ice masses, which will therefore be insulated from melting down as well as from drifting away into warmer currents.  This phenomenon seems to have led to the observed gain in the ice mass in the Antarctic region, which is not noticeable in the Arctic.

The need for more research

However, researchers are not conclusive as to whether this is the sole reason for the expanding Antarctic ice mass or else whether there are many other factors that promote such a situation in the first place. Thus, it will take many more years, perhaps decades, before the scientific community can fully understand these changes, which may affect human existence in the coming decades.

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More about this author: Menaka Ratnayake

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ARTICLE SOURCES AND CITATIONS
  • InfoBoxCallToAction ActionArrowhttp://nsidc.org/cryosphere/seaice/characteristics/difference.html
  • InfoBoxCallToAction ActionArrowhttp://www.nature.com/news/global-warming-expands-antarctic-sea-ice-1.12709