How sea ice in the Arctic and Antarctic responds to climate change | Polarjournal
Antarctic sea ice encircles the continent in winter and retreats almost completely in summer (Photo: Julia Hager)

While global warming in the Arctic is mainly causing a decline in sea ice, in the Antarctic it is mainly the ice shelves that are losing mass. A review article looks at why Antarctic sea ice responds differently to rising temperatures than Arctic sea ice

Two scientists from China’s Sun Yat-sen University have reviewed 100 scientific studies to clarify why global warming appears to be having a much more pronounced and faster impact on Arctic sea ice than on Antarctic sea ice, which has so far remained relatively stable. Their findings have been published in Ocean-Land-Atmosphere Research.

“The differences in responses are explained in terms of geographic, climatic and meteorological differences between the two regions. Arctic sea ice is located in the polar area and encircled by land, while sea ice in the Antarctic is located far from the polar area outside the Antarctic circle,” said Mohammed Shokr, the paper’s lead author.

In the Arctic, climate change is particularly noticeable in the form of a decline in sea ice. The causes of this have been extensively researched for decades through observations and modeling.

In contrast, warming in Antarctica leads primarily to melting of ice shelves and accelerated calving of icebergs, which is also the subject of immense scientific research. However, according to the authors, the behavior of Antarctic sea ice receives less scientific attention because of its lesser economic and ecological importance to humans.

Climate change means that, similar to Antarctica, summers in the Arctic will be increasingly ice-free and large-scale sea ice cover will only occur in winter (Graphic: Ocean-Land-Atmosphere Research)

Mr Shokr and Yufang Ye, a co-author of the paper, therefore emphasise in their paper the importance of studying the impact of the increasing number and dynamics of icebergs as freshwater sources on Antarctic sea ice.

“It is expected that Arctic sea ice will mimic the seasonal behavior of the Antarctic sea ice, namely forming in winter and almost completely vanishing in summer,” Ms Ye said.

In the earlier studies, they more frequently encountered the question of why Antarctic sea ice is not responding to climate change in the same way as Arctic sea ice, which is decreasing in area and thickness. In their view, this may not be the right question. Rather, future studies should try to answer why the behavior of Arctic sea ice approaches that of Antarctic sea ice over the course of the year.

Julia Hager, PolarJournal

Source Mohammed Shokr & Yufang Ye. Why Does Arctic Sea Ice Respond More Evidently than Antarctic Sea Ice to Climate Change? Ocean-Land-Atmosphere Research (2023). DOI: 10.34133/olar.0006

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