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Antarctic sea ice reaches new record maximum

Watch the video above: Scientists discuss the differences between the Arctic and Antarctic.

TORONTO – While the Arctic sea ice reached its sixth lowest level in satellite record, at the other end of the globe, the Antarctic sea ice achieved record growth, according the the U.S. National Snow and Ice Data Center.

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Scientists warned, however, that the upward trend in the Antarctic is only about a third of the magnitude of the ice lost in the Arctic.

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

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The Antarctic sea ice reached a maximum of 1.54 million square kilometres on Sept. 22 — 560,000 square kilometres above the previous record set in October 2013.

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. NASA's Scientific Visualization Studio/Cindy Starr

The last three years have all been records for sea ice in Antarctica.

While the Antarctic has gained an average of 18,900 square kilometres a year of ice since the late 1970s, the Arctic has lost about 53,900 each year. Scientists are still struggling to understand why.

What they do understand is that the Arctic and Antarctic are two very different systems: Antarctica is a large continent surrounded by water, while the Arctic is surrounded by land.

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“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.

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Another factor that scientists are examining is the melting ice on the edges of the continent. This leads to more fresh water at temperatures just above freezing that makes it easier to refreeze. There is also the possibility of water circulation patterns, winds or even snowfall.

“It’s really not surprising to people in the climate field that not every location on the face of Earth is acting as expected,” Parkinson said. “It would be amazing if everything did.”

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