The Arctic and the Antarctic are Responding in Opposite Ways
The Arctic and the Antarctic play the role of, kind of like an air conditioner for the Earth system. So they’re cold. They have a lot of ice. They reflect a lot of the solar energy, so they stay colder than they otherwise would.
They’re more sensitive to climate change and therefore they’re the regions that we see the biggest effects of climate change so far and the biggest effects of warming. They’re kind of a canary in a coalmine of global warming.
This year’s Arctic sea ice minimum is in about the top ten of the lowest that we’ve seen in the last three and a half decades.
As the global temperature has increased, the temperatures in the Arctic, especially in the past decade, have increased by about two to three times the global average. And so what’s happening is as temperatures increase, ice melts.
This year in the Antarctic we’ve seen a pretty spectacular maximum extent. The Antarctic sea ice has expanded beyond anything we’ve seen before and set a new record.
The increase that we’re seeing in the Antarctic extent is a little bit of a mystery. We’re seeing overall temperatures warming around the globe. So you would expect to see ice loss.
Some people have looked at the Antarctic increasing trend and used that to suggest that global warming isn’t happening or that the increase in the Antarctic gives offset in the decrease in the Arctic and that’s simply not true. If you look at simply the magnitudes in the changes we’re seeing in the winter time, the Arctic is decreasing about twice as fast as what the Antarctic is increasing.
It’s important to look at the relationship between the Arctic and Antarctic because studying those gives us an indication of what changes we’re going to see around the rest of the globe in the future.