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Why the Amount of Ice in Antarctica is Increasing but the Ice in the Arctic Isn't

According to NASA, within the past decade, new record high amounts of ice have been recorded in Antarctica. just 5 years ago, in September 2014, the Antarctic ice cap exceeded 7.72 million square miles (7,720,000 sq mi), a gain of 7,300 square miles of ice since the 1970s.

Arctic ice isn’t growing at such a rapid pace, though it does expand seasonally, as one would expect. People might wonder why there is such a disparity between Antarctic and Arctic ice. NASA explains it by saying “The new Antarctic sea ice record reflects the diversity and complexity of Earth’s environments.” However, this really isn’t an explanation. It is just a fancy way of saying that scientists honestly don’t know all of the variables when it comes to the earth’s climate.

And yet, NASA does have a partial answer, though they are reluctant to talk about it in detail. The explanation isn’t difficult to grasp, though. It is simply this: Nearly all of the ice in Antarctica is on top of land, which is surrounded by the ocean. In the arctic, almost all of the ice is on top of ocean water, surrounded by land. This makes an enormous difference.

In fact, most of the amount of ice that is lost every year in Antarctica, before again building up, is lost in areas where the ice is over the Antarctic ocean, rather than being over the Antarctic landmass.

On land, at sea level, ice freezes at 32° F or 0° C. However, ocean water has a lower freezing point. Ocean water freezes at 28° F or -2° C. The average temperature of all of the ocean water, in general, is about 38.3° F, well above the freezing point of seawater. It would stand to reason that ice that is above ocean water would be more apt to melt.

Further, the average temperature inland in Antarctica is -50° F/-45.6°C. Ice should build up in Antarctica, just as NASA has recorded. At around the time that NASA recorded record-breaking amounts of ice in Antarctica, they also registered the lowest natural temperatures ever recorded on Earth, in Antarctica; below -135° F/-92.7° C.

I’ve been studying the climate since the 1970s, but it doesn’t take an advanced science degree to understand that the biggest reason Antarctic ice is increasing while Arctic ice isn’t keeping pace is in large part because Antarctic ice is mostly over land and Arctic ice is mostly over water. This should be explained, but it isn’t, at least not often.

In case anyone wonders, as of the first week of December 2019, Arctic ice covered 3.60 million square miles, officially. Interestingly, the thickness of the Arctic ice has been growing since 2008 in Chukchi, Beaufort and East Siberian areas, which indicates greater snowfall amounts. That is part of the equation, too, since virtually all of Antarctica is technically a desert. The average precipitation in Antarctica is just over 2¼ inches per year.

The red line in the picture is the ‘normal’ extent of ice in Antarctica.

  • Did you realize that most Arctic ice is over water while most Antarctic ice is over land?

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    • I never thought about it

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Written by Rex Trulove

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  1. Enlightening article, Rex.

    So, the so-called global warming, might actually be a good thing then, that might be actually preventing the next ice-age from happening sooner, than it would otherwise do so.

    As you say, the climate is changing, but no one has a real clue as to exactly why, or how.

    • Antarctica is a fascinating place and a long-time deep interest of mine before I even got into climatology. Yes, it definitely has its secrets, but NASA has been able to accurately measure the ice for several decades. Frankly, they’ve been perplexed because there is no doubt at all that there is more ice there now than there was a decade ago, and it continues to increase.

  2. We have to be very careful here, because there is plenty of evidence to suggest that Antarctica is losing ice at an increasing rate, especially in West Antarctica.

    One must also be careful when estimating ice quantities by the surface area coverage as seen from space. Such an image says nothing about how thick the ice is. Ice sheets can lose vast amounts from the bottom without this being at all apparent when viewed from above.

    • NASA is using a full array of scientific instruments to figure out the ice buildup, including satellites, radar, sonar, and ice core samples. They’ve proven in several ways that the ice growth is real, including with ground observation The only place the ice appears to be lessening is where the ice is over water and not supported by land. That is absolutely to be expected. The depth of the ice can be accurately measured now. More than one ship that has been sent to study ‘global warming’ has had severe issues when it has been trapped in the ice, too.

    • That is what is honestly funny about all of this. NASA is basically saying that we have nowhere near enough knowledge to say how the climate is changing and why. The climate has been changing for about 3.5 billion years, since long before there were any people, and scientists can’t explain any of it.

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