Science News

Antarctic Researchers Challenged by Increasing Sea Ice

Although global warming is causing Arctic ice to melt and glaciers around the world to shrink, the sea ice surrounding Antarctica is increasing, even to the point of hampering ship navigation and resupply operations.

"We know that the changing Antarctic sea ice extent is very largely driven by changes in wind,” says Tony Worby, a sea ice specialist at the Antarctic Climate and Ecosystems Cooperative Research Centre. “In turn, we know those changes are driven by the depletion of ozone in the stratosphere as well as increasing greenhouse gases at the surface."

The new wind patterns blow Antarctic sea ice away from the continent and then more ice forms close to shore. This doesn't occur in the Arctic because the ocean is hemmed in by land masses. And "it's quite a lot windier around Antarctica than in the Arctic," Worby says.

The area covered by Antarctic sea ice has been growing roughly 1.2% each decade since 1979. Last September, it reached a record 20 million square km surrounding the continent.

Most research stations are located on the coast, and shippers previously counted on the ice breaking up so their vessels could get near shore, says Rob Wooding, general manager of operations for the Australian Antarctic Division in Kingston. But that hasn’t happened for several years at Australia’s Mawson station.

"In the 2013 to 2014 season we couldn't get anywhere near Mawson due to the sea ice; we had to get fuel in there by helicopter," he says. But helicopters are not a long-term solution because of their cost and limited capacity.

For more information, see the article on the Science Insider website.

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