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Winds of Change: Why Antarctic Sea Ice Is Growing

The ice that covers the Arctic Ocean has been on an overall downward trend in summer for more than three decades now, but the growth of sea ice in winter at the opposite end of the world in the Antarctica has been trending upward over the same time span. That doesn’t contradict the idea of global warming — for one thing, the growth is very slow compared with ice loss in the Arctic — but it’s still a scientific mystery that scientists want to understand.

About 80 percent of the Antarctic sea ice growth can be explained by changes in the prevailing winds around the frozen continent says new study.
Credit: flickr/Liene Sturaine

Now a University of Washington scientist named Jinlun Zhang may have solved it. Writing in the Journal of Climatology, Zhang argues that about 80 percent of the growth can be explained by changes in the prevailing winds around the frozen continent; the remaining 20 percent, he suspects, might be the result of changes in ocean circulation.

The idea of a connection between changing winds and growing ice isn’t entirely new: a study published last year in the journal Nature Geoscience connected those same dots: in that research, climate scientists tracked the pattern of ice motion and wind direction, concluding that wind was pushing sea ice away from the frozen continent, creating expanses of open water closer in, where new ice could easily form.

Zhang’s new paper looks not at winds in general, but at a phenomenon known as the polar vortex, a circular pattern of winds that swirls around Antarctica.

“My results look at the fact that the vortex has gotten stronger over the past three decades,” Zhang said in an interview. There has also been an increase in convergence, or winds coming from different directions to slam into each other.

Since the wind pushes sea ice ahead of it, this tends to pile sea ice up into ridges of increased thickness, which creates areas of open water prone to freezing — a similar effect to last year’s study, but with a slightly different cause.

What Zhang doesn’t know is why the vortex has gotten stronger. It could simply be a result of natural climate variations, with no connection to human activity. It could also be related to the ozone hole that still persists over the southern continent. That manmade gap in the planet’s protective ozone layer isn’t a result of global warming; its cause is manmade ozone-destroying chlorofluorocarbons, whose use has been phased out, but which still linger in the polar stratosphere.

But the loss of ozone above Antarctica has altered the local energy balance in the atmosphere, and could, in principle, make the polar vortex stronger.

The loss of ozone above Antarctica has altered the energy balance in the atmosphere, and could, in principle, make the polar vortex stronger.
Credit: flickr/Todd Radenbaugh

It’s plausible, Zhang said, but the dynamics of the polar atmosphere are “very, very complicated. I haven’t seen a clear explanation yet of why the winds have gotten stronger.”

It’s clear to Zhang and other experts who look at sea ice that the seeming paradox of Antarctic ice increasing while Arctic ice is decreasing is really no paradox at all. The Arctic is an ocean surrounded by land, while the Antarctic is land surrounded by ocean. In the Arctic, moreover, you’ve got sea ice decreasing in the summer; at the opposite pole, you’ve got sea ice increasing in the winter. It’s not just an apples-and-oranges comparison: it’s more like comparing apple pie with orange juice.

It does serve as a reminder, however, that while the planet is warming overall, largely due to human emissions of greenhouse gases, the complexity of the climate system guarantees that the changes to come won’t unfold in a completely straightforward way.

Related Content 
2013 Arctic Sea Ice Loss 
Antarctic Sea Ice Grows as Result of Warming 
Forget the Melting Arctic, Sea Ice in Antarctica is Growing! 
No, Arctic Sea Ice Has Not Recovered, Scientists Say 
Winds Seen As Key Driver Of Antarctica's Growing Sea Ice 
Ozone Hole’s Shifting Winds May Sap Major Carbon Sink


By fred (vancouver)
on September 23rd, 2013

It is global warming that causes all things. Just ask scientists. If it is hotter, it is global warming. If it is colder, it is global warming. When global warming is proved to be false, the scientists will now call it climate change, which is a play on words for changing weather. Weather has always changed, and always will. And on September 27, 2013 the worlds scientists will publish a paper that now says that carbon emissions are not creating global warming or climate change. Wait for it.

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By Paul (Matawan, NJ 07747)
on January 5th, 2014

There are so many areas on the planet that show the effect of the global climate change.  You need to turn off your version of Fox news and look around.  Whether you want to point to the obvious human causes or just say it is climate variations, the world is getting hotter.  Your response makes you sound like an octogenarian, who maybe doesn’t care if the disaster we can avert happens or not.  Maybe you kids or grand-kids do. 
Hey, if the the scientific efforts disrupt your life style, lets just forget.  Who is more important than you.?

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By Brandon M. Magoon (Erie, PA 16502)
on June 22nd, 2014

Magoon’s law: As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of somebody bringing up FOX News approaches One.

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By Atanacio Luna (quail Valley, CA, 92587)
on September 2nd, 2014

Because it is true. When people deny all of science, arguing that their simple minded guesses outweigh all the combined efforts of the best minds all over the world, which successfully create all the magic which we see everyday; like in the very process of this post, it can only be that they are FOX news experts.
Peer review is how we edify our best truth, it is saying: “This is my best work. Here is how I did it, please tell me how it can be better.”
Where as FOX news/Clear Channel rant radio sais”  Look at all these uncomfortable thoughts out there. We have a simple answer to make you feel better, never you mind reality.” Sleep, sleep, and let us make a little more money for Murdock’s handlers, it’s OK, if it may ruin your grandchildren’s world, close your mind and sleep.” CC RR says “Get angry, say crazy things, it’s your right, and if you say it like you mean it, then it will become true, no matter how absurd.
The work on which this article is based will be argued, and corrected by better knowledge, at each point making our understanding that much better.

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By Big Ed (Los Angeles, CA)
on October 4th, 2014

Demonizing your opponent with ad hominen attacks is the surest sign that you’ve lost the debate.

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By C Brown (Toronto Ontario)
on September 23rd, 2013

“So the sea will never dry up: for before that can happen the water that has gone up beforehand will return to it: for if you say that this happens once you must admit its recurrence. If you stop the sun’s course there is no drying agency. If you let it go on it will draw up the sweet water as we have said whenever it approaches, and let it descend again when it recedes. This notion about the sea is derived from the fact that many places are found to be drier now than they once were. Why this is so we have explained. The phenomenon is due to temporary excess of rain and not to any process of becoming in which the universe or its parts are involved. Some day the opposite will take place and after that the earth will grow dry once again. We must recognize that this process always goes on thus in a cycle, for that is more satisfactory than to suppose a change in the whole world in order to explain these facts. But we have dwelt longer on this point than it deserves.”

Meteorology By Aristotle 
Written 350 B.C.E 
Translated by E. W. Webster

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By Chip Henry
on September 23rd, 2013

I’m so tired of their blanket explanations when they can’t predict.  They know, but their predictions fail to show a pattern that matches, regardless of what start date they begin with.  It’s clear they don’t have a climate theory that can explain, so let’s jump to, well, 20% might be this, but that’s different.  Hogwash!

Google News seems to have much more of this than Bing News.  I guess they’re based in CA, so that explains enough of it.

I read a theory that was based on chlorofluorocarbons and it matched history, meaning that it could predict from its start date at any point and get close to what happened forward.  It got very little press, but the knowledge base was fascinating.  Does anyone remember when they said the world was going into an Ice Age??  I do, and it wasn’t all that long ago.

Seeing they have Comment Moderation, I don’t expect this to get published.  Let’s suppress comments like we suppress science.

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By Jim Steele (Pacifica CA 94044)
on September 23rd, 2013

The winds have had a great role in temporarily reducing Arctic sea ice removing thick multi-year ice. The thinner replacement ice then melts as quickly as it does in the Antarctic. In the Antarctic, westerly winds that increase during the positive SSAM compress ice against the western Antarctic peninsula and reduce ice and increase temperatures via increased heat ventilation.

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By Symbolset
on September 24th, 2013

When water changes phase from vapor to liquid water it gives up more thermal energy than it takes to nearly boil nearly frozen water.  When it changes from ice to liquid it gives up as much energy again.  Ice is like a thermal battery, and the reverse changes absorb as much energy.

When cubic miles of water change phase from water to ice that gives up enough energy to raise hundreds of cubic miles of water by 1 C.  That is an obscene amount of energy.  The entire Earth’s atmosphere only weighs as much as 6,000 cubic miles of water.  That energy has to go somewhere even if it was caused by winds, or chop, or changes in deep ocean flow or polar vortex or whatever.  Energy doesn’t just go away: that’s the Law of conservation of energy.  Since we’re talking about more than enough energy to warm the entire Earth’s atmosphere by a measureable amount here, it would be helpful to know where that energy went.  Was it spent melting the arctic cap?

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By Jonathan Tooker (Dunwoody, GA 30338)
on September 24th, 2013

Actually that does contradict global warming.  I think you meant to say it does not conclusively disprove global warming.

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By Randall DeWitt (98629)
on September 24th, 2013

The reason that the ice probably declined faster in the northern hemisphere and is slower to stabilize, is simply because most of humanities massive aquatic thermal contribution is within the northern hemisphere. Also, just because there is ice forming or growing in any location right now, doesn’t expose the bigger picture, or the fact that the aquatic structure over all has warmed up dramatically. We must realize that the rapid decline in the planetary ice, that has taken place over the course of the past few decades, has indeed created large pockets of cooling, which has naturally included the cooling of warmer tropical waters, as they were being moved by the natural tidal flows. This cooling simply worked to our advantage in this instance, but we must realize that the cooling potential of that lost ice is now gone, and the trend in the very near future will be a spiking upwards in the overall aquatic temperatures. Naturally, there will always be new ice forming in the winter time in the Artic and Antarctic, but it will never replace the massive volumes of deep water ice that has been lost. Thus, we lost that level of cooling potential for good, and must compensate for it, if we ever hope to create stability in the colder regions once again. We can only do this by addressing mankind’s aquatic thermal contamination, while investing in cost effective methods of compensation for that which we cannot easily reduce from this contribution. Also, we must address the possibility that the extraction of oil from under the sea floor could potentially become a serious contributing factor to this condition, if we discover that the removal of the oil has increased the normal rate and volume in which thermal energy is being transferred from the hotter planet surface into the colder ocean waters. We should be taxing the oil industry to pay for the much needed investigation and research to answer this very important question. If the extraction of oil from under the ocean floor is indeed creating an increase in the rate and volume of thermal energy being transferred into the waters, we’ll need to stop such activities and develop compensation for the damage done. If we wait, we will never be able to reverse the damage done, and risk the very life of every species on the planet.

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By Atanacio Luna (quail Valley, CA, 92587)
on September 2nd, 2014

Nice line of thought: Absolutely, we should tax oil and other fossil fuel extraction, and biomass conversion to fuels. If one believes in markets efficacy, there can be no other solution. Yes it will reduce economic activity in those sectors, but it will increase it in the replacement sector by a larger amount, unless we find cheaper energy, in which case the issue of distribution comes into question, ether way tax is an excellent mechanism to invoke now.

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By Randall DeWitt (98629)
on September 24th, 2013

I don’t know where your getting your information. Because both the Artic and Anarchic have been substantially reduced over the past three decades. Whatever growth there has been, it has been a very small fraction of the ice being lost and just a temporary increase created by a temporary return of the healthy conduction values, probably due to the cooling created by the massive melt-off itself. But all that cooling created by the melt-off will soon be gone, and the increase in temperatures will again return, again eroding away that temporary return of the healthy conduction values created by those colder deep ocean waters. Mankind’s thermal contamination of the aquatic environment, will again become exposed, and will dominate. This time for good! We cannot contribute massive volumes of unnatural thermal energy into an aquatic environment that has a predominant inwards direction of conduction and not expect to create a thermal increase or an accumulation, even in waters as vast as the oceans.

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By Tim (Atlanta, ga)
on January 24th, 2014

Actually, while the arctic has been shrinking, the Antarctic has definitely been growing.  Look it up.

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By Jim Macdonald (South Windsor, CT 06074)
on September 24th, 2013

The IPCC’s pronouncements have caused the needless spending of countless billions of dollars.
After sixteen years with no warming, they continue to claim that they are more certain than ever that man is causing warming..  It’s about time to completely defund the IPCC.

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By R. Medred (Hillsborough, NC 27278)
on September 24th, 2013

This is a typical main-stream media attempt to further the man-made global warming lie.  They admit that we still don’t understand the physics, math, and science in general to explain what’s happening to sea ice or anything else about whether the climate is warming or cooling.  The believers models are an utter disaster due to them making model modifications in an attempt to produce their desired result.  However, they don’t hesitate to claim man-made global warming is an undisputed done deal.  The following sentence is clear proof this author’s intent is not to report the facts but to report his agenda as a man-made global warming believer. “... It does serve as a reminder, however, that while the planet is warming overall, largely due to human emissions of greenhouse gases…

It’s so obvious—nuff said.

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By Wallace Mayo (Roanoke, VA 24014)
on September 24th, 2013

So everyone just takes readings (some untrustworthy it seems) over a few decades and makes big proclamations (“What a hockey stick!”). Well, the hockey stick is broken. What happened to looking at the PDO and AMO? Why ignore the solar factor? Yes, we’ve had a warmer period, but it’s about to change. It’s already not what we’ve been told we’d have by now (2007 saying we’d have ice-free arctic summers by 2013). Watch the next handful of winters. You’ll see.

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By Thorne Kontos (Sullivan, MO 63080)
on September 25th, 2013

google Burt Rutan Climate Change read the pdf…

then if you really need a laugh, there is this website where an individual has tracked everything the media has claimed to be caused by “global warming” to find it google “warmlist” it should be the first on the list.

At this point, you can now basically call these people kooks.

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By Trip North (NJ)
on September 25th, 2013

The planet is rebalancing.  Negative at one end, postive in another.  It’s a story as old as the planet. 

Humanity is not a species.  It’s a force.  It’s pure silliness to scoff at our true nature when one considers the things we have accomplished: toppeling mountains, leveling forests, draining lakes, building cities, going to the moon and beyond.  Our very existance of creaing is rooted in destroying.  If we need to eat, drive, fly, build, we have to destroy what stands before us.  Climate change is real by our own nature and the way we use resources on this planet.  You think the science stops once useful octane is derived from oil and powers your car to your local church, grocery story, or brothel?  You think the amount of cows we now need to feed 2 billion+ meat eaters on this planet doesn’t result in methane increase?  That heat goes somewhere.  Those chemical fumes go somewhere.  Believing our chemical waste vanishes is like believing your feces vanish once you flush the toilet.  But before that magic happens, you inhale them for all their glory.  Suck on your exhaust port for some giggles. 

I find it more humorous that detractors believe they will be elevated with their rich and psuedo-powerful overlords once they complete building their private space station (no thanks to any type of science naturally).  You won’t be.  You’ll be the first ones discarded once your usefulness is exhausted.  That’s what a devil does.  It makes you think you will be rewarded for following orders, but them throws you off the cliff when the time is right. 

The planet does not need saving.  It’s seen 4 billion years of darkness, global fires, global ice sheets, asteroids attacks, radiation, and the death of 99% of all life that has thus far existed.  It does NOT care about life.  I personally don’t care about the weather or our impacts on the environment.  Once the human force has run its course, the planet will clean itself up and find a new balance.  It always has, and it always will.

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By kermit
on September 25th, 2013

fred: “It is global warming that causes all things. Just ask scientists.”

Well, no. The scientist quoted in this article says he doesn’t know what is causing the increased vortex strength, but it is the vortex which seems to be causing the increase in precipitation. So it’s clear that either you have no reading comprehension, or don’t care that your claim is shown to be false on the same page you post it.

It’s difficult to imagine how climate change will be proven to be “false”, when it has been observed in the the last century or so or observations. I suppose it could reverse itself for some as-yet unknown reason (e.g. Superman intervenes, or aliens). In principle the explanation could be shown to be false, but we would then require a testable explanation to replace it, and an explanation for why the greenhouse gases do not work as they have been observed to for over 150 years now.

I also note that there is no mention in this article that the Antarctic is getting warmer, only that precipitation has increased.

chip henry: “Does anyone remember when they said the world was going into an Ice Age??  I do, and it wasn’t all that long ago.”

Well, actually, they didn’t. We knew about greenhouse gases in the mid-20th century, but we also knew by then that we were in an interglacial ice age and were moving slowly toward glaciation. We didn’t know which would prove stronger, and there were few strong convictions. The ice age, if it were to happen, would have taken 10,000 years. That stately slide into a colder state has been swamped, however, by our GHG production.

Scientists work hard to gather verifiable data, produce a testable explanation, and determine if they have made any errors.
Ideologues work hard to convince people they are correct by using emotional rhetoric, utterly deny the possibility that they are in error, and reject evidence even when it is verifiable.

Scientists speak cautiously, and have all the evidence.
Ideologues claim certainty, and present no evidence.

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By Paul Budline (Princeton NJ)
on September 25th, 2013

Very true, R. Medred, that last sentence speaks volumes, and some similarly-worded variation appears in pretty much every article written on this agenda-driven, Google-subsidized, little-visited site.  These are amusing days for those of us who have long been skeptical of the “climate change” industry.  The IPCC is slowly backtracking, the infallible models have gone haywire, and even a venerable magazine like Popular Science has decided to abandon reader comments because, apparently, too many folks questioned the AGW faith.  None of this would matter all that much except for the lamentable fact that, while the elites convene in Stockholm, warmist policies continue to severely damage the world’s very poorest people.  At long last, have they no shame whatsoever?

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By Basil Smith (3610 RSA )
on September 27th, 2013

I was recently pilloried by the avid followers of the Huffington’s Post’s spin on global warming, when in a response to an article HP published, I dared to suggest that the geo and climate variables contributing to global warming were so numerous and operated in such an interdependent manner as to make the kind of conclusions being drawn, questionable and without basis in conclusive scientific truth….I dared to suggest that such was theory, at best.

My credentials, qualifications, sanity, authority, experience, ancestors and my sources of information were all attacked with rabid virulence by the HP regulars. Touchy bunch, they are…...!

Glad to find a more balanced article except for the closing para;  “It does serve as a reminder, however, that while the planet is warming overall, largely due to human emissions of greenhouse gases,........................ “

I guess that it will take a little while longer for the truth to emerge and to persuade mankind that the cause/s of ice melt are the result of MUCH BIGGER more COMPLEX and as yet identified influences and factors than GHG’s. 




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By Chuck Severance (Wasill, AK 99654)
on September 27th, 2013

I was wondering if anyone would care to explain the 60 percent increase in Arctic Ice we have seen this year, along with the huge increase in the Antarctic?

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By Phil Jones (8675309)
on September 27th, 2013

This is one of the biggest garbage articles I’ve ever read… Totally overlooking the obvious here… The Antarctic has been below average temperatures for 2 years!!  Thus sea ice grows…mute the Author would have us believe that somehow the wind is the cause and that somehow, suddenly the ocean currents and the winds suddenly changed making all this ice .. Ignoring Temperatures.. At the same time Global Warming excuse makers are telling us how the Ocean has warmed up so significantly., 400,000 Hiroshima bombs per second worth…

Overall these tangents and excuse making ignore the obvious…

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By Treesong (Cleveland OH 44113)
on September 28th, 2013

@Severance: The explanation is out there for anyone who can read. Arctic sea ice summer extent goes up and down from year to year because of weather, and MOST large drops are followed by a large ‘recovery’. Last year’s weather was exceptionally good for melting; this year’s was not—rather bad, in fact.  Most Arctic climate experts predicted this year would see a ‘recovery’, and they were right. Despite this, the downward trend is blatantly obvious for anyone who isn’t blind. See for the details.
Oh, but you can’t read, since you’re asking for an explanation for the Antarctic winter sea ice increase when the whole point of the commented-on article is to give one.
I might add that the Antarctic winter sea ice melts away almost completely every summer, so there’s no lasting effect there. And that the Antarctic as a whole is LOSING a lot of ice every year, and that loss IS a lasting one that is increasing over the years—currently over 80,000,000,000 tons a year. See .

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By Griff (Ft. Collins, CO 80524)
on October 1st, 2013

I think it is so interesting to see how each side tries to defend itself based on one particular theory - it’s just a theory. One that is far less proven than anything else that is out there. Well, I guess I may as well join in.
“The science” of global warming seems to be both supported and blown up almost every week by somebody or other. And it is done by learned people all around he world. Personally, I am perplexed by this. It does seem very “unlikely” to me that the tropical dinosaurs were wiped out by the ice age. Yet that is what we are told - by some. This seems to indicate that weather is not on a consistent path, but that it is a very powerful natural force. That I can buy. It’s much harder for me to see how we could, in just a few decades have such a detrimental effect - at least compared to the complete annihilation of so many species by the “ice age” over thousands of years.
I think it may be best here to “Follow the money”.  Is anybody profiting off of global warming either financially or politically? If so I would first look to see how those that are profiting are actually living their lives. So far I see little actual real personal conservation practice by those who are getting rich off of this. Are they not flying all over the world giving speeches when a e-conference would be just as effective? Are they not filling us with fear while still driving big cars instead of car pooling? Don’t get me wrong. I believe in solar power. I own three such systems on my own property. But I also have only invested in things that have a real practical payback. I am not interested in investing in something which costs me more in the long run or takes so long to payback I would have to live another 15 years to have it paid back. I mean, do you realize how far we have come in the LAST 15 years? Far better efficiencies in autos, far better ways of building houses, far better ways of communications, and medicine, and water conservation, etc, etc. I believe we must be practical AND realistic. I know it was more than 10 years ago that Al Gore said parts of New York would be under water by now. And how may Natural disaster movies have claimed Global Warming as their cause? Yet how may of these things have come true? Practical AND realistic.Enough is enough. I’d rather have fun at the beach in my motorboat today, than walk to the local stream and dream about doing that. I’m not sticking my head in the sand, just trying to live a life without feeling that I have to walk everywhere, or never enjoy air conditioning, or be eat anything other than rabbit food!

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By Ronbo (Port Angeles, WA 98363)
on October 3rd, 2013

chip henry: “Does anyone remember when they said the world was going into an Ice Age??  I do, and it wasn’t all that long ago.”

Kermit, Well, actually, they didn’t.

Actually, they did! You want proof, go look at this.
Do your own homework kermit. Your rhetoric is lacks facts. Chips does not.

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By William Hughes-Games (Waipara New Zealand)
on December 31st, 2013

One possible link in the argument is missing.  When objects move in the Southern Hemisphere, Coriolis causes them to veer to the left.  To the left in a clockwise rotating system such as the south polar vortex and for the ice that it pushes is outwards (away from the pole).  The Antarctic is warming as is the Arctic but is still well below freezing most of the time hence, the open water caused by the ice spreading out, as it looses it’s cover of ice, can loose heat and freeze.  Another factor may, ironically, be due to the warmer ocean.  It melts more of the ice coming down from the land, releasing fresh water which floats.  In the vernacular, fresh water freezes more easily than salt water.  We see this as ice extent.  Decent ice volume figures would be interesting as soon as Cryosat2 data become available from the past 3 years.

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