New study explains increase in Antarctic sea ice

As the Arctic sea ice melt continues to concern many within the scientific community, it is an increase in Antarctic sea ice that has raised questions. UW research scientist and associate professor Jinlun Zhang recently released a study examining the reason for this phenomenon.

Although global sea ice is still in decline, certain areas of Antarctica have experienced an increase in sea ice thickness. According to Zhang’s research, this trend is due to an increase in winds in the southern oceans that decrease surface air temperature, causing the sea ice to ridge more often.

Ignatius Rigor, UW research scientist and climatologist at the UW’s Polar Science Center, says that scientists shouldn’t just look at one place, such as the Arctic, and decide that sea ice is in decline. The key, to him, is whether those same decreases happen worldwide. 

“Climate change is a global thing, and we need to understand how the climate is changing over the whole globe and [whether] it is consistent with global warming,” Rigor said. “[Zhang’s research] makes a lot of sense. One of the things we expect in a warming planet is a change in weather.”

Zhang’s model shows that the change in the southern wind’s pattern causes more pressure to be exerted on the sea ice below and creates thicker layers. However, even in layers that had an increase in thick ice, there was no large change in medium or thin ice production.

Axel Schweiger, a climatologist at the Polar Science Center who has worked with Zhang on numerous occasions, believes that others will begin basing their work on Zhang’s model-based discovery. 

“I think the paper offers a potential answer to the problem that has been bugging the science community for a while: why Antarctic sea ice could be increasing in a warming world,” Schweiger said. 

Sea ice isn’t increasing uniformly among the different Antarctic regions, as some is in decline. According to Zhang’s research, this difference is possibly due to the variability of surface air temperature of different Antarctic regions.

The research was funded by the National Science Foundation.

Reach reporter Deanna Isaacs at news@dailyuw.com. Twitter: @Deanna_Isaacs

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