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Opposite but unequal: Record high Antarctic sea ice versus record low Arctic sea ice

A side by side comparison of record high Antarctic ice levels compared to record low Arctic sea ice levels established in September (NASA)

I also pointed out the stunning contrast between the Antarctic record high ice levels and the Arctic record low levels set about 10 days apart. But I explained why “it’s in­cred­ibly misleading to equate the two records.” In short, the Arctic sea ice difference from the long-term average is much more dramatic than the Antarctic’s.

New NASA imagery reinforces this point.

Look at the Antarctic record maximum sea ice extent and how it compares to the 1979-2000 median extent (yellow line).

Record maximum Antarctic sea ice extent established September 26 (NASA)

Now look at the the Arctic record minimum sea ice extent and how it compares with the 1979-2000 median (yellow line):

Record minimum Arctic sea ice extent established September 16, 2012 (NASA)

Animations further illustrate how much more dramatic the changes are in the Arctic.

Videos courtesy the National Snow and Ice Data Center

As I discussed before, the rapid ice loss in the Arctic is strongly related to warming in the region, although storms and winds contribute as well. In the Antarctic, processes which govern ice changes are more complex and not as well-understood, but it is thought changes in atmospheric circulation (in part, perhaps, resulting from ozone depletion) and precipitation may be behind the slow increase in ice.

Jason is the Washington Post’s weather editor and Capital Weather Gang's chief meteorologist. He earned a master's degree in atmospheric science, and spent 10 years as a climate change science analyst for the U.S. government. He holds the Digital Seal of Approval from the National Weather Association.


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