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Uploaded:2012-10-25
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Hank gets to the bottom of two studies reporting high sea ice coverage and snowmass in Antarctica in the same year that the Arctic has reported a record low of sea ice. What is going on here?

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References
http://green.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/10/03/running-the-numbers-on-antarctic-sea-ice/
http://nsidc.org/news/press/20121002_MinimumPR.html
http://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/20/science/earth/arctic-sea-ice-stops-melting-but-new-record-low-is-set.html?_r=0
http://nsidc.org/news/press/2012_seaiceminimum.html
*SciShow theme music*

Hi! I'm Hank Green. Welcome back to SciShow Breaking News. You may have seen a couple of recent headlines stating that global warming is over because snowfall and ice is increasing in Antarctica, while it decreases in the Arctic. And so, bam! Discussion over! Stop being alarmist hippies and get back to real science like making tachyons and better tasting instant coffee. But the earth is an amazing, astonishing place where often stuff that doesn't seem like it should be, nevertheless is, like that male seahorses get pregnant or that Nickelback was ever popular.

So the very interesting fact that I'm excited to talk about today is that two recent studies show that there is actually more snow and ice in Antarctica, even as the world is getting warmer. So what's up with that?

First, the national snow and ice data center reported this month that Antarctic sea ice coverage reached an all time high. According to its satellite data at its winter maximum, ice covered 19.4 million square kilometers of the Southern Ocean, slightly more than the previous record measured in 2006.

And just a few weeks earlier, NASA scientists reported 5 years worth of measurements taken of Antarctica by the Ice, Cloud and Land Elevation Satellite, known as ICESat. They found that from 2002 to 2008, snow mass increased by 49 billion metric tons per year, more than making up for the amount of ice that Antarctica lost to melting. Now you and I have both known the internet long enough to predict that it's gonna freak out about this. Well, calm down, let me 'splain it to you.

First, warmer air retains more moisture, and higher humidity means more snow. Since surface temperatures have risen as much as 2° Celsius in 25 years, an increase in snowfall is not all that surprising. In addition, more snow can lead to more sea ice through a process with the wonderfully understandable name of "Snow-to-Ice Conversion". Heavy snowfall causes floating ice to sink, allowing seawater to splash over it and freeze, making the ice bigger.

Finally, climate change is causing a whole Pandora's box full of new weather patterns in Antarctica that we're just beginning to understand. For instance, more snow seems to result in more fresh water in the Southern Ocean, which freezes more easily. And that hole in the Ozone layer over Antarctica that you've heard about? It's creating colder, stronger winds that are causing icier conditions at sea.

But like we are we say when we talk about the climate, the most important thing is to look at the big picture, consider what's happening on the other side of the world. A mere two weeks before record sea ice was measured in Antarctica, a record low amount of sea ice was measured in the Arctic at its summer minimum, only 3.4 million square kilometers. That's half the average minimum between 1979 and 2000. 

Both of these phenomena are functions of a changing climate and, clearly, they don't balance each other out. Any record level of anything is worrying, whether ice or melting, because we're not just worried about rising sea levels, we're worried about changing climate patterns: agricultural lands turning to deserts, rivers running dry.

Climate change can start to sound abstract to us after all these years of talking about it, but the consequences are real, and potentially dire, and we're seeing them at both poles and everywhere in between.

Thank you for watching this episode of Breaking SciShow News. If you have any ideas for future topics for us to discuss or questions or comments or anything like that, we're on Facebook and Twitter, and of course, down in the comments below.

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