Satellite Records Show Antarctic Sea Ice Reaches New Record Maximum

Long-term satellite records show that the five-day average of Antarctic sea ice extent reached a new record high this year.


This year, Antarctic sea ice reached a record maximum extent while the Arctic reached a minimum extent in the ten lowest since satellite records began. Why are these trends going in opposite directions? Image Credit: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center/Joy Ng

Sea ice surrounding Antarctica reached a new record high extent this year, covering more of the southern oceans than it has since scientists began a long-term satellite record to map sea ice extent in the late 1970s. The upward trend in the Antarctic, however, is only about a third of the magnitude of the rapid loss of sea ice in the Arctic Ocean.

The new Antarctic sea ice record reflects the diversity and complexity of Earth’s environments, said NASA researchers. Claire Parkinson, a senior scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, has referred to changes in sea ice coverage as a microcosm of global climate change. Just as the temperatures in some regions of the planet are colder than average, even in our warming world, Antarctic sea ice has been increasing and bucking the overall trend of ice loss.

“The planet as a whole is doing what was expected in terms of warming. Sea ice as a whole is decreasing as expected, but just like with global warming, not every location with sea ice will have a downward trend in ice extent,” Parkinson said.

Since the late 1970s, the Arctic has lost an average of 20,800 square miles (53,900 square kilometers) of ice a year; the Antarctic has gained an average of 7,300 square miles (18,900 sq km). On Sept. 19 this year, for the first time ever since 1979, Antarctic sea ice extent exceeded 7.72 million square miles (20 million square kilometers), according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center. The ice extent stayed above this benchmark extent for several days. The average maximum extent between 1981 and 2010 was 7.23 million square miles (18.72 million square kilometers).

The single-day maximum extent this year was reached on September 20, according to NSIDC data, when the sea ice covered 7.78 million square miles (20.14 million square kilometers). This year’s five-day average maximum was reached on September 22, when sea ice covered 7.76 million square miles (20.11 million square kilometers), according to NSIDC.

Antarctic Sea Ice Reaches New Maximum

On September 19, 2014, the five-day average of Antarctic sea ice extent exceeded 20 million square kilometers for the first time since 1979, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center. The red line shows the average maximum extent from 1979-2014. Image Credit: NASA’s Scientific Visualization Studio/Cindy Starr

A warming climate changes weather patterns, said Walt Meier, a research scientist at Goddard. Sometimes those weather patterns will bring cooler air to some areas. And in the Antarctic, where sea ice circles the continent and covers such a large area, it doesn’t take that much additional ice extent to set a new record.

“Part of it is just the geography and geometry. With no northern barrier around the whole perimeter of the ice, the ice can easily expand if conditions are favorable,” he said.

Researchers are investigating a number of other possible explanations as well. One clue, Parkinson said, could be found around the Antarctic Peninsula – a finger of land stretching up toward South America. There, the temperatures are warming, and in the Bellingshausen Sea just to the west of the peninsula the sea ice is shrinking. Beyond the Bellingshausen Sea and past the Amundsen Sea, lies the Ross Sea – where much of the sea ice growth is occurring.

That suggests that a low-pressure system centered in the Amundsen Sea could be intensifying or becoming more frequent in the area, she said – changing the wind patterns and circulating warm air over the peninsula, while sweeping cold air from the Antarctic continent over the Ross Sea. This, and other wind and lower atmospheric pattern changes, could be influenced by the ozone hole higher up in the atmosphere – a possibility that has received scientific attention in the past several years, Parkinson said.

“The winds really play a big role,” Meier said. They whip around the continent, constantly pushing the thin ice. And if they change direction or get stronger in a more northward direction, he said, they push the ice further and grow the extent. When researchers measure ice extent, they look for areas of ocean where at least 15 percent is covered by sea ice.

While scientists have observed some stronger-than-normal pressure systems – which increase winds – over the last month or so, that element alone is probably not the reason for this year’s record extent, Meier said. To better understand this year and the overall increase in Antarctic sea ice, scientists are looking at other possibilities as well.

Melting ice on the edges of the Antarctic continent could be leading to more fresh, just-above-freezing water, which makes refreezing into sea ice easier, Parkinson said. Or changes in water circulation patterns, bringing colder waters up to the surface around the landmass, could help grow more ice.

Snowfall could be a factor as well, Meier said. Snow landing on thin ice can actually push the thin ice below the water, which then allows cold ocean water to seep up through the ice and flood the snow – leading to a slushy mixture that freezes in the cold atmosphere and adds to the thickness of the ice. This new, thicker ice would be more resilient to melting.

“There hasn’t been one explanation yet that I’d say has become a consensus, where people say, ‘We’ve nailed it, this is why it’s happening,’” Parkinson said. “Our models are improving, but they’re far from perfect. One by one, scientists are figuring out that particular variables are more important than we thought years ago, and one by one those variables are getting incorporated into the models.”

For Antarctica, key variables include the atmospheric and oceanic conditions, as well as the effects of an icy land surface, changing atmospheric chemistry, the ozone hole, months of darkness and more.

“Its really not surprising to people in the climate field that not every location on the face of Earth is acting as expected – it would be amazing if everything did,” Parkinson said. “The Antarctic sea ice is one of those areas where things have not gone entirely as expected. So it’s natural for scientists to ask, ‘OK, this isn’t what we expected, now how can we explain it?’”

Related Link

› Q&A with NASA’s Joey Comiso: What is Happening with Antarctic Sea Ice?

Source: Kate Ramsayer, NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center,

Image: NASA’s Scientific Visualization Studio/Cindy Starr

8 Comments on "Satellite Records Show Antarctic Sea Ice Reaches New Record Maximum"

  1. Raymond Borland | October 8, 2014 at 1:21 pm | Reply

    ANSA just reported today that the earth is not warming now for 18 years. Of course, we all knew this from previous data . Not even the oceans are warming up to explain why global warming is not occurring. Notice this article says that warming is occurring. When I read that statement I assumed the rest was as much bull $#!T . The easiest assumption to explain why global warming is not occurring is that global waring is NOT occurring. The CO2 level at 400 ppm is far too small to affect atmospheric temperatures. The true believers, flat earther, Al Gore-worshiper should be ousted from their tenured university positions ASAP. They are worthless propagandists who don’t know how to perform real scientific research.

    • Wow! You and I are the few that understand or see this propaganda for what it is. You and I are the few that understand that these others are nuts to believe in said propaganda. I believe my eyes, ears and skin. I live on the coast and have seen no water rising. I read and hear reports and see and hear the truth in spite of what alarmists say. I have been an outdoorsman/woodsman all my life and feel no difference in temperatures. I believe that glaciers may melt because of the end of an ice age lasts for a very long time. I understood since I was a child that Arctic and antartic regions thaw during their summer month. But they also refreeze every year. I also understand something about Chemistry and specific heat of gasses. I know that H2O has about twice the specific heat than CO2 or any other gas. Explaining facts with the propagandists does no good.

    • Matthew D. Broxson | October 8, 2014 at 8:55 pm | Reply

      The record amounts of CO2 that you mention in themselves are not enough to cause the full effect. However they are enough to start the ball rolling on a domino effect including higher amounts of atmoshperic water that will then couple with the persisting CO2 to result in the global warming trend you are denying. You speak of people needing to perform real scientific research, but you are apparently not doing so yourself. Al Gore has nothing to do with the research, he is not a scientist, he simply has done his best to be a liaison between the scientists and the general public. As a scientist, I do not like his explanation of the issues at hand either, but that does not make him incorrect. Before criticizing others take on such a well founded phenomenon I suggest reading a bit more than an ANSA article and then touting yourself an expert on the matter. Al Gore and ANSA are not scientists. Before spreading ignorance to the impressionable masses read some PEER-REVIEWED literature on the topic, form an EDUCATED opinion, then THINK, then consider opening your mouth.

  2. Easy explanation: Minor if any warming for 17 years. Wonderful MAMA Nature and her cycles with the sun, water vapor, oceans and volcanoes when she blows her top, and opens methane holes when she has gas – as her home the Earth tilts on its axis. Search: “natural-tilts-earths-axis-ice-ages-harvard-geophysicist”

  3. These scientists can’t make up their minds.

    One week an article is posted on Yahoo talking about a bunch of damn walruses sitting on a coastline and everyone stats replying it’s the END it’s the END!

    Then a month ago and this article says there is record ice in Antarctica! Ice can’t form if there is (GLOBAL) warming!

    This stuff is a joke and Al Gore needs to be locked in a padded room for starting this damn garbage!

    I can’t wait until all these tree hugging fools pull their heads out of their rear ends and stop their garbage and give up because even senators and congressmen are starting to question and ask why nothing is changing!

    I hope their are hearings and jail time for those who are guilty of this propaganda for the natural gas companies and others who have made money from it. More than likely they will walk away with a slap on the wrist as usual.

  4. WE done been duped by the Church of Global Warming. the Arctic is not ice free and Mount Everest is not snow free. Global temperatures have not budged for 17-26 years and the EPA cannot provide one, not even on example of rising sea levels.

    What hurts most is that our esteemed leader, scientist extraordinaire, the esteemed Albert Gore has flown away on his private jet for parts unknown and left us to defend his inconvenient truth nonsense which, as it turns out, is inconvenient only because global warming/climate change is complete and total nonsense.

  5. When confronted with this new piece disconfirming information, you can bet the warmist cult will desperately (but nonetheless foolishly confidently) reply with yet another contrived “explanation” (excuse!) that this is due to “global warming”! Meanwhile climate scientists (and now even the mainstream media!) are now admitting that the warmist models are fatally flawed, and their predictions are NOT matching the accumulating data in a number of key areas. This is finally opening the door for new and more realistic models of climate change (which, by the way, has been going on for millions of years!) that reflect the MULTITUDE accumu

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