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Who Says Antarctica is Gaining Ice – A Review?

December 5, 2014

iceberg_melting2Like most aspects of climate change, a wide diversity of opinion exists whether the Arctic and Antarctica are gaining or losing ice – a collision between science and belief. In an almost futile attempt to close this chasm, this review presents both sides of the equation. The answer to this dilemma lays in the parable of the blind men and an elephant; “that one’s subjective experience can be true, but that such experience is inherently limited by its failure to account for other truths or a totality of truth.”

To understand this vicious circle, we need to look no further than the top of the globe – the Arctic.

In September 2013, reported that “Arctic sea ice up 60 percent in 2013.”The article states, “The surge in Arctic ice is a dramatic change from last year’s record-setting lows, which fueled dire predictions of an imminent ice-free summer.”  A few days later, Nature World News headlined “Arctic Sea Ice Extent Up 50 Percent from Last Year, but Still 6th Lowest on Record.” The article states, “We had cool conditions, cooler than the long-term average, and yet it is still going to be the sixth-lowest ice minimum on record. However, this year’s ice gain is not of iceberg proportion. Much of the added ice is thin and slushy, which is in line with a general trend towards thinning ice in the Arctic.

Then In November 2014, Nature World News featured a piece “Arctic Sea Ice May Completely Disappear in Our Lifetime.” The researchers featured in this article claim “According to the study, an ice-free period hasn’t been seen in the Arctic Ocean for 2.6 million years, a time when the Earth’s climate was warming up. But now the climate is changing again and global temperatures are increasing, impacting Arctic ice once more. By the end of the present century, researchers say, the Arctic Ocean may very well be completely free of sea ice, especially in summer.” With all this seemingly contradictory statements, it is not too surprising that the question of ice growth or melt is froth with much confusion.

Moving south of the equator, Antarctica is embroiled with a similar quandary. Here, stronger feelings exist that ice is expanding rather than melting in much of Antarctica.

In, “Why is Antarctic sea ice at record levels despite global warming?” The Guardian (October 2014) pointed out “While Arctic sea ice continues to decline, Antarctic levels are confounding the world’s most trusted climate models with record highs for the third year running. The US National Snow and Ice Data Centre records show that Antarctica’s sea ice in 2014 was 1.54m sq. km above the 1981-2010 average. The past three winters have all produced record levels of ice (Figure 1).”

Figure 1: Average Monthly Antarctica Sea Ice Extent – September 1979 to 2014

Antartica Ice Melting 1979 to 2014

Then a few months later, NASA released a review, “West Antarctic Melt Rate Has Tripled” (NASA-UC Irvine December 2014). According to scientists at the University of California, Irvine, and NASA, “A comprehensive, 21-year analysis of the fastest-melting region of Antarctica has found that the melt rate of glaciers there has tripled during the last decade. The glaciers in the Amundsen Sea Embayment in West Antarctica are hemorrhaging ice faster than any other part of Antarctica and are the most significant Antarctic contributors to sea level rise.

Finally, to bridge the gap, Skeptical Science explains, “Skeptic arguments that Antarctica is gaining ice frequently hinge on an error of omission, namely ignoring the difference between land ice and sea ice.”

“In glaciology and particularly with respect to Antarctic ice, not all things are created equal. Let us consider the following differences. Antarctic land ice is the ice, which has accumulated over thousands of years on the Antarctica landmass itself through snowfall. This land ice therefore is actually stored ocean water that once fell as precipitation. Sea ice in Antarctica is quite different as it is ice which forms in salt water primarily during the winter months. When land ice melts and flows into the oceans global sea levels rise on average; when sea ice melts sea levels do not change measurably.”

“In Antarctica, sea ice grows quite extensively during winter but nearly completely melts away during the summer (Figure 2). That is where the important difference between Antarctic and Arctic sea ice exists as much of the Arctic’s sea ice lasts all the year round. During the winter months it increases and before decreasing during the summer months, but an ice cover does in fact remain in the North which includes quite a bit of ice from previous years (Figure 2). Essentially Arctic sea ice is more important for the earth’s energy balance because when it increasingly melts, more sunlight is absorbed by the oceans whereas Antarctic sea ice normally melts each summer leaving the earth’s energy balance largely unchanged.

Figure 2: Coverage of sea ice in both the Arctic (Top) and Antarctica (Bottom) for both summer minimums and winter maximums


Source: National Snow and Ice Data Center

“One must also be careful how you interpret trends in Antarctic sea ice. Currently this ice is increasing overall and has been for years but is this the smoking gun against climate change? Not quite” Antarctic sea ice is gaining because of many different reasons but the most accepted recent explanations are:”

“i) Ozone levels over Antarctica have dropped causing stratospheric cooling and increasing winds which lead to more areas of open water that can be frozen,and

ii) The Southern Ocean is freshening because of increased rain and snowfall as well as an increase in meltwater coming from the edges of Antarctica’s land ice.”

“Together, these change the composition of the different layers in the ocean there causing less mixing between warm and cold layers and thus less melted sea and coastal land ice.”

“All the sea ice talk aside, it is quite clear that really when it comes to Antarctic ice and sea levels, sea ice is not the most important thing to measure. In Antarctica, the largest and most important ice mass is the land ice of the West Antarctic and East Antarctic ice sheets.”

“There is variation between regions within Antarctica, with the West Antarctic Ice Sheet and the Antarctic Peninsula Ice Sheet losing ice mass, and with an increasing rate. The East Antarctic Ice Sheet is growing slightly over this period but not enough to offset the other losses. There are of course uncertainties in the estimation methods but independent data from multiple measurement techniques (explained here) all show the same thing, Antarctica is losing land ice as a whole, and these losses are accelerating quickly.”

In closing, it is doubtful that this review will change anyone’s opinion about climate change and its impact on the earth; especially those who deny that global warming is an ever-increasing problem influenced by human behavior. Like the blind men and an elephant, deniers who are limited by its failure to account for other truths, can’t change the irrefutable fact that lays in the totality of truth.”

Deniers need to get over the notion that there is a worldwide global warming conspiracy of scientists, universities, United Nations, nations, government agencies, and corporations. The only conspiracy is those who base their opinion on how their bunion feels.

One Comment leave one →
  1. May 29, 2015 7:19 AM

    Much of the above, is either fiction or way out of date. The pictures showing “melting” of the Antarctic Sea Ice is “totally” WRONG for recent Years. Supplying the Antarctic bases has become a near impossible task, with Ice to the horizon and ships not gaining access. Most Countries are in fact – in the process of purchasing bigger Icebreakers to deal with the: so called summer Ice… that happens to be both thicker and more extensive. And the sheet / land Ice “is gaining” (no error) even allowing for the West side Geothermal activity.

    Do you seriously think that ” land Ice would be melting more ” at the same time as the lowest temperatures & most Sea Ice in recorded history… same nonsense as Warmest Year??

    The Arctic, at the time of writing this is in fact, tracking close to a decade high in maintaining Ice into the summer period. Contrary to what warmists / alarmists ” play down the situation “, the Arctic has in fact been steadily regaining Ice and will likely reach average levels within two years going on the trend analysis. Along with this trend, Greenland has now reached the loss / gain turning point that reflects the “extreme low Winter temperatures” of the Northern Hemisphere for recent consecutive years.

    Antarctica has 90% of world’s Ice and Greenland has near 9%. The litmus test is whether Greenland gains Ice… if it does go that way, then every AGW prediction / premise is shot.
    NASA & IPCC can fiddle with the graphs and spin the propaganda, but the big picture is
    naturally revealing / exposing the Global Warming fraudsters, with trends to Cooling !

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