Wishful Thinking: The Magic Wand of South Pole Winds


I’ve been reading a lot about how this year’s ice melt in the Arctic is the most severe since 1979, with record amounts of Arctic land and sea left ice-free. Ice formation is increasingly rapid as well, but the overall net loss outweighs any growth. Probably the only people pleased with this development are those hoping to exploit the region’s rich mineral deposits.

At the same time, I read that large amounts of sea ice are forming around the Antarctic, driven by wind patterns that are starting to be understood by scientists. And in spite of my background working in the environmental and energy sectors, I always feel a hopeful moment of relief – maybe some unknown climate pattern will be set into motion that will mean we don’t have to worry about global warming, climate change, rising seas and all the environmental and social challenges that ride on the coattails of major change and upheaval.

Of course, I know better. The amount of sea ice forming around the Antarctic continent (at a winter rate of 22 sq. miles per minute, according to the article in Nature Geoscience) doesn’t offset the amount of ice lost at the other pole. In any case, the poles have entirely different patterns. The ice formation and build-up around the southern pole, which is surrounded entirely by sea, is an annual cycle among the most important on the planet. The ice retention and melt on the Arctic end is influenced by the fact that it occurs in a sea almost entirely surrounded by land – a literal opposite to Antarctica.

And while the ice around the southern pole has been modestly increasing over the past thirty years, it’s still outbalanced by ice loss to the north.

So, why am I musing on this?

It’s because I realized that if I, a person with  long history of trusting the science behind climate change, could feel sudden (if only brief) relief at the news that sea ice around the Antarctic was increasing, then people with less trust in the same science might use that fact to tell themselves and others that drastic changes will be averted by the heretofore unknown magic wand of South Pole winds. That the message they hear is no longer negative, and that action isn’t required on a societal level. And that, if I am confronted with those erroneous arguments, I need a solid comeback as to why we need to keep working toward global climate solutions.

More at http://nsidc.org/arcticseaicenews/

Minimum and maximum sea ice cover for the Arctic and Antarctic. Winter in the Southern Hemisphere is opposite that of the Northern Hemisphere, which explains why Antarctica has less sea ice during February. The black circles in the center of the Northern Hemisphere images are areas lacking data due to limitations in satellite coverage at the North Pole.
—Credit: National Snow and Ice Data Center, University of Colorado, Boulder, Colorado.

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