SCIENCE

Why Antarctic Sea Ice Levels Are Improving, While The Arctic Continues To Shrink

  • Mary Nichols , Design & Trend Contributor
  • May, 27, 2016, 11:27 PM
Tags : science, news
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Arctic Sea Ice
(Photo : Getty Image/Joe Raedle) As the ice sheets in the Arctic melt at record speeds, scientists have been at a loss to explain why the Antarctic ice sheets have been growing in size.

As the ice sheets in the Arctic melt at record speeds, scientists have been at a loss to explain why the Antarctic ice sheets have been growing in size.

But a new study supported by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) may have found a reason to explain the difference between the ice coverage in the Arctic and Antarctic ice sheets, reports Christian Science Monitor.

Sea ice coverage in the Arctic has been reached all-time lows recently, with records showing they have thinned by 65 percent between 1975 and 2012. However, the opposite pole has seen an increase in ice coverage despite glacier melt fears.

The researchers analyzed temperature, topographical and bathymetric data in order to find out why Antarctica has experienced increased sea ice. Their findings showed that local ocean depth and continental features had an affect on wind and ocean currents in the region - meaning sea ice levels were mostly protected. However, the opposite conditions were found to occur to in the Arctic - leading to falling sea ice levels.

"Our study provides strong evidence that the behavior of Antarctic sea ice is entirely consistent with the geophysical characteristics found in the southern polar region, which differ sharply from those present in the Arctic," Son Nghiem, a science researcher at Jet Propulsion Laboratory Earth, said in a news release.

The researchers used data from NASA's QuikScat satellite, which was launched in 1999, to look at how Antarctic sea ice formed and the different routes it travels, as well as ice coverage throughout the Southern Ocean. They found that Antarctic winds were responsible for moving building ice around the continent during the ice growth season, in June to September.

These movements resulted in a barrier, known as the ‘Great Shield' barrier ranging from 60 to 620 miles wide, which acts as a shelter for newly formed interior ice, protecting it from the elements.

The zone's path runs parallel to the southern Antarctic Circumpolar Current front, an invisible boundary that marks the separation of cooler and warmer waters near the Antarctic. Following the same path as the colder water ensures the GSZ is sustained and also allows young ice to grow quickly.

The conditions present in the Antarctic's GSZ are almost opposite to the conditions found in the Arctic. The Arctic has a marginal ice zone (MIZ), a boundary of thin, new ice that is susceptible to the elements and also positioned closer to warmer waters, which has led to feeble conditions for the production of ice.

The scientists noted that further research in this area could lead to better models to predict polar ice production and whether ice levels in the Arctic and Antarctic are likely to increase or shrink in future, as well as providing better insight into sea level rise.

The study was published in the journal Remote Sensing of Environment.

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