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NASA: Biggest Cap of Antarctic Sea Ice Since 1979

NASA: Biggest Cap of Antarctic Sea Ice Since 1979

A new report from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) finds that the Antarctic ice cap has exceeded 20 million square kilometers, a freeze that hasn’t been seen since 1979 when the agency began to compile records.

“Sea ice surrounding Antarctica reached a new record high extent this year, covering more of the southern oceans than it has since scientists began a long-term satellite record to map sea ice extent in the late 1970s,”  the NASA website reported on October 7.

NASA went on to say:

Since the late 1970s, the Arctic has lost an average of 20,800 square miles (53,900 square kilometers) of ice a year; the Antarctic has gained an average of 7,300 square miles (18,900 sq km). On Sept. 19 this year, for the first time ever since 1979, Antarctic sea ice extent exceeded 7.72 million square miles (20 million square kilometers), according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center. The ice extent stayed above this benchmark extent for several days. The average maximum extent between 1981 and 2010 was 7.23 million square miles (18.72 million square kilometers).

The single-day maximum extent this year was reached on Sept. 20, according to NSIDC data, when the sea ice covered 7.78 million square miles (20.14 million square kilometers). This year’s five-day average maximum was reached on Sept. 22, when sea ice covered 7.76 million square miles (20.11 million square kilometers), according to NSIDC.

The amount of ice did surprise many, and Claire Parkinson, a senior scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, noted that “not every location on the face of Earth is acting as expected.” She went on to say that the readings make scientists ask “OK, this isn’t what we expected, now how can we explain it?”

“There hasn’t been one explanation yet that I’d say has become a consensus, where people say, ‘We’ve nailed it, this is why it’s happening,'” Parkinson added.

Regardless, Parkinson and others at NASA contend that all this is still a result of global warming.

“The planet as a whole is doing what was expected in terms of warming. 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,” she said.

Follow Warner Todd Huston on Twitter @warnerthuston or email the author at


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