Polar Climate Change
The differences between the arctic and antarctic, and how it effects climate change
By Colter Adams
No one I've ever met seems to care which polar region is which; the poles just seem too far away. Seriously who spends their time thinking about Antarctica? Most people live in areas with moderate temperatures, and if they spend anytime looking at a globe generally their gaze is resting on their next planned vacation. The arctic regions are so underrated that my shower curtain map (yes I have a shower curtain map) shows Antarctica as a big white blob bigger than Asia and Africa combined!
Now as an avid pro-climate protection advocate I do know a little about the poles but I think of them in the same way geologists think about the earth's core. I've never really thought about the arctic other than that its just...well...there and the ice up there and down there is melting way to fast.
These days, I have made an attempt to connect more with the arctic regions and some of the research that I've done has surprised me. Perhaps the biggest misunderstanding that I as well as the general public have about the arctic regions is that the Arctic and Antarctic are basically the same. You know, one’s up and the other down; but other than that, they’re the same...... No, not at all! These polar opposites are literally polar opposites, no pun intended.
To begin with, the Arctic is a tiny (geographically speaking), shallow ocean surrounded by land: Asia, Greenland, Canada and the United States. It’s only 5 ½ million square miles, which is five times smaller than the Atlantic Ocean. Antarctica, on the other hand, is a continent surrounded by the entire Southern Ocean (unless you are Nat Geo in which case its surrounded by like all the oceans). This year, Antarctica lost a small insignificant amount of ice while at the same time the arctic ice diminished at a massive scale. One major reason we are seeing differences between the Arctic and the Antarctic is due to their polar locations.
This may seem like no big deal, but it makes a very significant difference. Changing water temperature takes an extremely high amount of energy when compared to changing land temperature, which means Arctic seawater isn’t as cold as the continental ice sheet covering Antarctica. So, sea ice in the arctic is about 10 feet thick, whereas the Antarctic ice sheet which is actually freshwater ice, is over a mile thick.
In the winter, the sea ice in Antarctica extends on every side into the Southern Ocean, but every summer most of this sea ice melts. That’s because the ice edge around Antarctica is exposed to open ocean, and every direction travel-able is north. So, during the summer, the sea ice moves north and melts away. This means that only a small amount of Antarctic sea ice is more than two years old, but Arctic sea ice is trapped inside the landlocked ocean. This means that during the summer months, only the very upper layers of Arctic ice experience any melting.
All of the above information is very important if you are trying to understand polar global warming. Based on the above information, it can be concluded that the greater portion of water melts from Antarctica, causing sea level rise faster further south. Why does it make a difference where the sea level rise comes from? Well that's because it takes a long time for the water melted from ice-caps to cause sea level rise everywhere. It can take up to a year for melted ice-cap water from Antarctica to reach North America, and vice versa from the Arctic. This means places that are further south, near the larger ice-cap melting pot Antarctica, will see more dramatic sea level rises initially, then countries up North. This means these countries in the south should be more concerned about their actions in warming the earth.