Satellite Observations of Antarctic Sea Ice, showing this year's record high. The sharp spikes are caused by seasonal variations.  (Source: University of Illinois, Polar Research Group)

Antarctic sea ice coverage at a recorded record high.  (Source: University of Illinois, The Cryosphere Today)
Highest amount seen since record-keeping began

Researchers at the University of Illinois are reporting a sharp increase in the total amount of sea ice in the Southern Hemisphere. Recent observations show the total ice area now at 16.26 million square kilometers -- the highest amount seen since record-keeping began, and up more than 8% over the past five years.

This corresponds with research conducted last year by the Cambridge Centre for Polar Observations, which found Antarctica ice sheets to be thickening and gaining mass. Global temperature data shows mainland Antarctica (all but the small Antarctic Peninsula) has cooled by up to 1F during the last fifty years, countering a warming trend that began at least as early as 1850.

David Bromwich, professor of atmospheric sciences at Ohio State University, says, "It's hard to see a global warming signal from the mainland of Antarctica right now".

As Antarctica sets historic highs, the Northern ice cap, however, has been on a steady decline, and this year reached a record low. According to the report, "The [Northern Hemisphere] sea ice area is currently at its historic minimum (2.92 million sq. km) representing a 27% drop in sea ice coverage compared to the previous (2005) record NH ice minimum."

Luckily, Arctic ice does not rest upon bedrock, and thus its melting does not affect world sea levels. However, the discrepancy is a difficult to explain by anthropogenic global warming models, which predict both polar regions to warm substantially.

The warming Arctic is expected to eventually open up gas and oil resources in the region, as well as a new sea trade route, saving up to 8,000 miles on cargo shipping between Asia and the rest of the world.

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