The ice goes on seemingly forever in a white pancake-flat landscape, stretching farther than ever before. And yet in this confounding region of the world, that spreading ice may be a cockeyed signal of man-made climate change, scientists say.
This is Antarctica, the polar opposite of the Arctic.
While the North Pole has been losing sea ice over the years, the water nearest the South Pole has been gaining it. Antarctic sea ice hit a record 7.51 million square miles (19.45 million square kilometres) in September. That happened just days after reports of the biggest loss of Arctic sea ice on record.
Climate change skeptics have seized on the Antarctic ice to argue that the globe isn't warming and that scientists are ignoring the southern continent because it's not convenient. But scientists say the skeptics are misinterpreting what's happening and why.
Shifts in wind patterns and the giant ozone hole over the Antarctic this time of year, both related to human activity â€” are probably behind the increase in ice, experts say. This subtle growth in winter sea ice since scientists began measuring it in 1979 was initially surprising, they say, but makes sense the more it is studied.
"A warming world can have complex and sometimes surprising consequences," researcher Ted Maksym said this week from an Australian research vessel surrounded by Antarctic sea ice. He is with the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts.
Many experts agree. Ted Scambos of the National Snow and Ice Data Center in Colorado adds: "It sounds counterintuitive, but the Antarctic is part of the warming as well."
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