Antarctic sea ice hits an all-time high, NASA blames global warming

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Antarctic sea ice hits an all-time high, NASA blames global warming
Antarctica is overall accumulating ice, but parts have increased ice loss in last decades: https://t.co/j7x9idUdM8 https://t.co/VMNbV1LB3m
ANTARCTICA - JUNE 15: Iceberg near the Ukrainian Station Akademik Vernadsky, Antarctic Peninsula, Antarctica. (Photo by DeAgostini/Getty Images)
On Sept. 19, 2014, the five-day average of Antarctic sea ice extent exceeded 20 million square kilometers for the first time since 1979, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center. The red line shows the average maximum extent from 1979-2014. (NASA's Scientific Visualization Studio/Cindy Starr)
Although the Amundsen Sea region is only a fraction of the whole West Antarctic Ice Sheet, the region contains enough ice to raise global sea levels by 4 feet (1.2 meters).
True colour satellite image of the Earth centred on the South Pole with cloud coverage, during winter solstice at 6 a.m GMT. This image in orthographic projection was compiled from data acquired by LANDSAT 5 & 7 satellites., Globe Centred On The South Pole, True Colour Satellite Image (Photo by Planet Observer/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)
BAILEY HEAD, DECEPTION ISLAND, ANARCTICA - DECEMBER 17, 2010: This is a satellite image closeup view of Bailey Head, Deception Island, Antarctica collected on December 17, 2010. (Photo DigitalGlobe/ScapeWare3d via Getty Images)
NBC NEWS -- Antarctica 2013 -- Pictured: Gerlache strait Antarctica February 13, 2013 -- (Photo by: Kerry Sanders/NBC NewsWire via Getty Images/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
This image obtained from NASA 15 May 2007 shows what a team of NASA and university scientists say 15 May 2007 is clear evidence that extensive areas of snow melted in west Antarctica (left) in January 2005 in response to warm temperatures. This was the first widespread Antarctic melting ever detected with NASA's QuikScat satellite and the most significant melt observed using satellites during the past three decades. Combined, the affected regions encompassed an area as big as California. The NASA statement described the findings as 'the most significant melt observed using satellites during the past three decades.' (Photo credit should read -/AFP/Getty Images)
GLACIER CALVING, ANTARCTICA - JANUARY 27, 2012: This is a satellite image of a glacier calving in Antarctica, collected on January 27, 2012. (Photo DigitalGlobe via Getty Images)
Earth. True colour satellite image of the Earth, centred on Antarctica. The South Pole is at centre. Antarctica is a frozen continent, permanently covered in snow and ice. Surrounding Antarctica are the waters of the Southern Ocean, mixing with the Atlantic Ocean (upper centre), the Pacific Ocean (lower left) and the Indian Ocean (centre right). Around the edge of the hemisphere is New Zealand (lower centre), Australia (lower right), and the southern parts of Africa (upper right, the island of Madagascar is also seen) and South America (upper left). The image used data from LANDSAT 5 & 7 satellites. Print size 42x42cm., Globe South Pole, True Colour Satellite Image (Photo by Planet Observer/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)
BAILEY HEAD, DECEPTION ISLAND, ANARCTICA - DECEMBER 17, 2010: This is a satellite image closeup view of Bailey Head, Deception Island, Antarctica collected on December 17, 2010. (Photo DigitalGlobe/ScapeWare3d via Getty Images)
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By RYAN GORMAN

Antarctic sea ice has hit a new record maximum, but scientists say this is even more proof of global warming.

Satellite imagery from last month shows the ice shelf surrounding the planet's southern-most continent passed 20 million-square-kilometers (7.72 million-square-miles) for the first time since 1979, according to NASA.

Scientists only began keeping track of Antarctic sea ice in 1979, so this represents a new known-record.

Despite this development, experts still believe it is proof the planet is warming.

"The planet as a whole is doing what was expected in terms of warming," said Claire Parkinson, a senior scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center.

"Sea ice as a whole is decreasing as expected, but just like with global warming, not every location with sea ice will have a downward trend in ice extent."

Arctic sea ice has decreased at a rate of about 21,000 square-miles per year since the 1970s, according to the space agency, but Antarctic sea ice has gained about 7,300 square-miles annually.

Despite these gains, the southern ice shelf had never exceeded 7.2 million-square miles, experts said.

Another expert believes the southern shelf has expanded because Antarctica does not have the natural barriers present around the North Pole.

"Part of it is just the geography and geometry. With no northern barrier around the whole perimeter of the ice, the ice can easily expand if conditions are favorable," said Walt Meier, a research scientist at Goddard.

Other factors at play could be changing wind patterns, a hole in the Ozone layer and even a constant low-pressure system over the continent.

"The winds really play a big role," Meier said. Gusts from Antarctica's interior push colder temperatures further out to sea and can cause the ice to rapidly expand.

Snow falling onto thin, barely noticeable ice can also play a part, scientists say. As it pushed the thin layer of slush and ice below the surface, it causes more water to cool and thickens the frozen layer at the top.

Initially warmer waters created by the Ozone hole only serve to further strengthen these storms before their snowfall causes the water to freeze over.

Warmer oceans have also been fingered as the main culprit in the Polar Vortex slamming the United States with bitter cold air last winter.

Scientists believe warmer water from global warming is destabilizing polar air masses and causing them to shift south, causing colder and snowier winters in many regions.

But these are all just theories. No one knows for sure what is causing the Antarctic ice sheet to expand so rapidly.

"There hasn't been one explanation yet that I'd say has become a consensus," said Parkinson. The Antarctic sea ice is one of those areas where things have not gone entirely as expected.

"So it's natural for scientists to ask, 'OK, this isn't what we expected, now how can we explain it?'"



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