Someone let Al Gore know the South Pole isn’t melting. Antarctic sea ice coverage reached record levels for April, hitting 3.5 million square miles — the largest on record.
It was a cold summer down in Antarctica, with sea ice coverage growing about 43,500 square miles a day, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSDC). April 2014 beats the previous sea-ice coverage record from April 2008 by a whopping 124,000 square miles.
But even with autumn in full swing in the South Pole, “record levels continue to be set in early May,” reports the NSDC. Sea ice levels have been “significantly above” satellite data averages for 16 consecutive months.
The most pronounced growth in sea-ice coverage is in the eastern Weddell Sea and areas south of Australia and along the southeastern Indian Ocean, according to NSDC. And temperatures in the Weddell Sea region have been 1 to 2 degrees Celsius below the 1981 to 2010 average during March and April. Similar cooling trends have lowered average temperatures along the southern Indian Ocean by 2 to 3 degrees Celsius.
“However, across much of the far Southern Hemisphere, temperatures have been above average: For example, in the southern Antarctic Peninsula, temperatures have been 1 to 2 degrees Celsius (2 to 4 degrees Fahrenheit) above average; in the southern South Pacific, temperatures have been 1.5 to 2.5 degrees Celsius (3 to 4 degrees Fahrenheit) above average, and up to 4 degrees Celsius (7 degrees Fahrenheit) above average in the area near the South Pole,” NSDC notes.
Antarctica has seen huge sea-ice growth throughout this year and last, which caught many climate scientists by surprise — some more literally than others.
In late December, a group of tourists and climate scientists got caught in Antarctic ice pack about 1,500 miles south of Tasmania. The expedition sought to document how global warming has changed the region in the last century, but instead made world headlines for getting stuck in record levels of ice.
“We’re stuck in our own experiment,” the Australasian Antarctic Expedition said in a statement. “We came to Antarctica to study how one of the biggest icebergs in the world has altered the system by trapping ice.”
The expedition was eventually rescued by helicopter and brought back to Australia. To make a bad trip worse, the ice breaker that rescued the expeditionaries also got stuck in some ice on its way back.
But while eastern areas of Antarctica are growing rapidly, scientists are warning that the continent’s western ice sheet has begun to collapse.
“Today we present observational evidence that the [ice sheet] has gone into irreversible retreat,” said Eric Rignot, the lead author of a study claiming the ice sheet was collapsing. “It has reached the point of no return.”
Rignot told reporters at a press conference hosted by NASA that the slow collapse of the glacier could raise sea levels between 10 and 13 feet.
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