Oceanography The Official Magazine of
The Oceanography Society
Volume 25 Issue 03

View Issue TOC
Volume 25, No. 3
Pages 140 - 151


Antarctic Sea Ice—A Polar Opposite?

By Ted Maksym , Sharon E. Stammerjohn, Stephen Ackley, and Rob Massom 
Jump to
Article Abstract Citation References Copyright & Usage
Article Abstract

As the world’s ice diminishes in the face of climate change—from the dramatic decline in Arctic sea ice, to thinning at the margins of both the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets, to retreating mountain glaciers the world over—Antarctic sea ice presents something of a paradox. The trend in total sea ice extent in the Antarctic has remained steady, or even increased slightly, over the past three decades, confounding climate model predictions showing moderate to strong declines. This apparent intransigence masks dramatic regional trends; declines in sea ice in the Bellingshausen Sea region that rival the high-profile decline in the Arctic have been matched by opposing increases in the Ross Sea. Much of the explanation lies in the unique nature of the Antarctic sea ice zone. Its position surrounding the continent and exposure to the high-energy wind and wave fields of the open Southern Ocean shape both its properties and its connection to the atmosphere and ocean in ways very different from the Arctic. Sea ice extent and variability are strongly driven by large-scale climate variability patterns such as the El Niño-Southern Oscillation and the Southern Annular Mode. Because many of these patterns have opposing effects in different regions around the continent, decreases in one region are often accompanied by similar, opposing increases in another. Yet, the failure of climate models to capture either the overall or regional behavior also reflects, in part, a poor understanding of sea ice processes. Considerable insight has been gained into the nature of these processes over the past several decades through field expeditions aboard icebreakers. However, much remains to be discovered about the nature of Antarctic sea ice; its connections with the ocean, atmosphere, and ecosystem; and its complex response to present and future climate change.


Maksym, T., S.E. Stammerjohn, S. Ackley, and R. Massom. 2012. Antarctic sea ice—A polar opposite? Oceanography 25(3):140–151, https://doi.org/10.5670/oceanog.2012.88.


Aagaard, K.L., K. Coachman, and E. Carmack. 1981. On the halocline of the Arctic Ocean. Deep Sea Research Part A 28:529–545, https://doi.org/10.1016/0198-0149(81)90115-1.

Ackley, S.F., and C.W. Sullivan. 1994. Physical controls on the development and characteristics of Antarctic sea-ice biological communities: A review and synthesis. Deep Sea Research Part 1 41:1,583–1,604, https://doi.org/10.1016/0967-0637(94)90062-0.

Arzel, O., T. Fichefet, and H. Goosse. 2006. Sea ice evolution over the 20th and 21st centuries as simulated by current AOGCMs. Ocean Modelling 12:401–415, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ocemod.2005.08.002.

Baines, P.G., and K. Fraedrich. 1989. Topographic effects on the mean tropospheric flow patterns around Antarctica. Journal of Atmospheric Science 46:3,401–3,415, https://doi.org/10.1175/1520-0469(1989)046<3401:TEOTMT>2.0.CO;2.

Banks, C.J., M.A. Brandon, and P.H. Garthwaite. 2006. Measurement of sea-ice draft using upward-looking ADCP on an autonomous underwater vehicle. Annals of Glaciology 44(1):211–216.

Bitz, C.M., P.R. Gent, R.A. Woodgate, M.M. Holland, and R. Lindsay. 2006. The influence of sea ice on ocean heat uptake in response to increasing CO2. Journal of Climate 19(11):2,437–2,450, https://doi.org/10.1175/JCLI3756.1.

Bracegirdle, T.J., W.M. Connolley, and J. Turner. 2008. Antarctic climate change over the twenty first century. Journal of Geophysical Research 113, D03103, https://doi.org/10.1029/2007JD008933.

Chapman, W.L., and J.E. Walsh. 2007. A synthesis of Antarctic temperatures. Journal of Climate 20:4,096–4,117, https://doi.org/10.1175/JCLI4236.1.

Comiso, J.C. 2010. Variability and trends of the global sea ice cover. Chapter 6 in Sea Ice, 2nd ed. D.N. Thomas and G.S. Dieckmann, eds, Wiley-Blackwell, Oxford, UK, https://doi.org/10.1002/9781444317145.ch6.

Fichefet, T., and M.A. Morales Maqueda. 1999. Modelling the influence of snow accumulation and snow-ice formation on the seasonal cycle of the Antarctic sea-ice cover. Climate Dynamics 15:251–268, https://doi.org/10.1007/s003820050280.

Fritsen, C.H., V.I. Lytle, S.F. Ackley, and C.W. Sullivan. 1994. Autumn bloom of Antarctic pack-ice algae. Science 266:782–784, https://doi.org/10.1126/science.266.5186.782.

Giles, K.A., S.W. Laxon, and A.P. Worby. 2008. Antarctic sea ice elevation from satellite radar altimetry. Geophysical Research Letters 35, L03503, https://doi.org/10.1029/2007GL031572.

Gille, S.T. 2002. Warming of the Southern Ocean since the 1950s. Science 295:1,275–1,277, https://doi.org/10.1126/science.1065863.

Gillett, N.P., D.A. Stone, P.A. Stott, T. Nozawa, A.Y. Karpechko, G.C. Hegerl, M.F. Wehner, and P.D. Jones. 2009. Attribution of polar warming to human influence. Nature Geoscience 1:760–764, https://doi.org/10.1038/ngeo338.

Gow, A.J., S.F. Ackley, K.R. Buck, and K.M. Golden. 1987. Physical and Structural Characteristics of Weddell Sea Pack Ice. US Army Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory,

Hanover, NH. CRREL Report 87-14.

Haas, C. 1998. Evaluation of ship-based electromagnetic-inductive thickness measurements of summer sea-ice in the Bellingshausen and Amundsen Seas, Antarctica. Cold Regions Science and Technology 27:1–16.

Haas, C., D.N. Thomas, and J. Bareiss. 2001. Surface properties and processes of perennial Antarctic sea ice in summer. Journal of Glaciology 47:623–625, https://doi.org/10.3189/172756501781831864.

Harangozo, S.A. 2004. The impact of winter ice retreat on Antarctic winter sea ice extent and links to the atmospheric meridional circulation. International Journal of Climatology 24:1,023–1,044, https://doi.org/10.1002/joc.1046.

Hurrell, J.W., and H. van Loon. 1994. A modulation of the atmospheric annual cycle in the Southern Hemisphere. Tellus A 46(3):325–338, https://doi.org/10.1034/j.1600-0870.1994.t01-1-00007.x.

Jeffries, M.O., and U. Adolphs. 1997. Early winter snow and ice thickness distribution, ice structure, and development of the western Ross Sea pack ice between the ice edge and the Ross Ice Shelf. Antarctic Science 9(2):188–200, https://doi.org/10.1017/S0954102097000242.

Jeffries, M.O., H.R. Krouse, B. Hurst-Cushing, and T. Maksym. 2001. Snow-ice accretion and snow-cover depletion on Antarctic first-year sea ice floes. Annals of Glaciology 33:51–60, https://doi.org/10.3189/172756401781818266.

Jeffries, M.O., S. Li., R.A. Jaña, H.R. Krouse, and B. Hurst-Cushing. 1998. Late winter first-year ice floe thickness variability, seawater flooding and snow ice formation in the Amundsen and Ross Seas. Pp. 69–87 in Antarctic Sea Ice: Physical Processes, Interactions and Variability. Antarctic Research Series, vol. 74, M.O. Jeffries, ed., American Geophysical Union, Washington, D.C.

Jeffries, M.O., R.A. Shaw, K. Morris, A.L. Veazey, and H.R. Krouse. 1994. Crystal structure, stable isotopes (δ18O), and development of sea ice in the Ross, Amundsen, and Bellingshausen Seas, Antarctica. Journal of Geophysical Research 99(C1):985–995, https://doi.org/10.1029/93JC02057.

Kawamura, T., M.O. Jeffries, J.-L. Tison and H.R. Krouse. 2004. Superimposed ice formation in summer on Ross Sea pack ice floes. Annals of Glaciology 39:563–568, https://doi.org/10.3189/172756404781814168.

Kwok, R., G.F. Cunningham, M. Wensnahan, I. Rigor, H.J. Zwally, and D. Yi. 2009. Thinning and volume loss of Arctic Ocean sea ice cover: 2003–2008. Journal of Geophysical Research 114, C07005, https://doi.org/10.1029/2009JC005312.

Lange, M.A., S.F. Ackley, P. Wadhams, G.S. Dieckmann, and H. Eicken. 1989. Development of sea ice in the Weddell Sea, Antarctica. Annals of Glaciology 12:92–96.

Lange, M.A., P. Schlosser, S.F. Ackley, P. Wadhams, and G.S. Dieckmann. 1990. 18O concentrations in sea ice of the Weddell Sea, Antarctica. Journal of Glaciology 36(124):315–323, https://doi.org/10.3189/002214390793701291.

Laxon, S., N. Peacock, and D. Smith. 2003. High interannual variability of sea ice in the Arctic region. Nature 425:947–950, https://doi.org/10.1038/nature02050.

Leonard, K., and T. Maksym. 2011. The importance of wind blown snow redistribution to accumulation on and mass balance of Bellingshausen Sea ice. Annals of Glaciology 52(57):271–278.

Lefebvre, W., and H. Goosse. 2008. An analysis of the atmospheric processes driving the large-scale winter sea ice variability in the Southern Ocean. Journal of Geophysical Research 113, C02004, https://doi.org/10.1029/2006JC004032.

Liu, J., and J.A. Curry. 2010. Accelerated warming of the Southern Ocean and its impacts on the hydrological cycle and sea ice. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 107:14,987–14,992, https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1003336107.

Lytle, V.I., and S.F. Ackley. 1996. Heat flux through sea ice in the western Weddell Sea: Convective and conductive transfer processes. Journal of Geophysical Research 101(C4):8,853–8,868, https://doi.org/10.1029/95JC03675.

Lytle, V.I., and S.F. Ackley. 2001. Snow-ice growth: A fresh-water flux inhibiting deep convection in the Weddell Sea, Antarctica. Annals of Glaciology 33:45–50, https://doi.org/10.3189/172756401781818752.

Maksym, T., and M.O. Jeffries. 2000. A one-dimensional percolation model of flooding and snow ice formation on Antarctic sea ice. Journal of Geophysical Research 105:26,313–26,331, https://doi.org/10.1029/2000JC900130.

Maksym, T., and T. Markus. 2008. Antarctic sea ice thickness and snow-to-ice conversion from atmospheric reanalysis and passive microwave snow depth. Journal of Geophysical Research 113, C02S12, https://doi.org/10.1029/2006JC004085.

Markus, T., and D.J. Cavalieri. 1998. Snow depth distribution over sea ice in the Southern Ocean from passive microwave data. Pp. 19–39 in Antarctic Sea Ice: Physical Processes, Interactions and Variability. Antarctic Research Series, vol. 74, M.O. Jeffries, ed., American Geophysical Union, Washington, DC.

Marshall, G.J. 2003. Trends in the Southern Annular Mode from observations and reanalyses. Journal of Climate 16:4,134–4,143, https://doi.org/10.1175/1520-0442(2003)016<4134:TITSAM>2.0.CO;2.

Marshall, G.J., P.A. Stott, J. Turner, W.M. Connolley, J.C. King, and T.A. Lachlan-Cope. 2004. Causes of exceptional atmospheric circulation changes in the Southern Hemisphere. Geophysics Research Letters 31, L14205, https://doi.org/10.1029/2004GL019952.

Martinson, D.G. 2011. The Antarctic circumpolar current’s role in the Antarctic ice system: An overview. Paleogeography, Paleoclimatology, Paleoecology 335–336:71–74, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.palaeo.2011.04.007.

Martinson, D.G., and R.A. Iannuzzi. 1998. Antarctic ocean-ice interaction: Implications from ocean bulk property distributions in the Weddell Gyre. Pp. 243–271 in Antarctic Sea Ice: Physical Processes, Interactions and Variability. Antarctic Research Series, vol. 74, M.O. Jeffries, ed., American Geophysical Union, Washington, D.C.

Martinson, D.G., S.E. Stammerjohn, R.A. Iannuzzi, R.C. Smith, and M. Vernet. 2008. Western Antarctic Peninsula physical oceanography and spatio-temporal variability. Deep-Sea Research Part II 55:1,964–1,987, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.dsr2.2008.04.038.

Massom R.A., A.B. Giles, H.A. Fricker, R.C. Warner, B. Legresy, G. Hyland, N. Young, and A.D. Fraser. 2010. Examining the interaction between multi-year landfast sea-ice and the Mertz Glacier tongue, East Antarctica: Another factor in ice sheet stability? Journal of Geophysical Research 115, C12027, https://doi.org/10.1029/2009JC006083.

Massom, R.A., K. Hill, V.I. Lytle, A. Worby, and I. Allison. 2001. Effects of regional fast-ice and iceberg distributions on the behaviour of the Mertz Glacier Polynya, East Antarctica. Annals of Glaciology 33:391–398, https://doi.org/10.3189/172756401781818518.

Massom, R.A., S.E. Stammerjohn, R.C. Smith, M.J. Pook, R.A. Iannuzzi, N. Adams, D.G. Martinson, M. Vernet, W.R. Fraser, L.B. Quetin, and others. 2006. Extreme anomalous atmospheric circulation in the West Antarctic Peninsula region in austral spring and summer 2001/02, and its profound impact on sea ice and biota. Journal of Climate 19(15):3,544–3,571, https://doi.org/10.1175/JCLI3805.1.

Meredith, M.P., and J.C. King. 2005. Rapid climate change in the ocean west of the Antarctic Peninsula during the second half of the 20th century. Geophysical Research Letters 32, L19604, https://doi.org/10.1029/2005GL024042.

Montes-Hugo, M., S.C. Doney, H.W. Ducklow, W. Fraser, D.G. Martinson, S.E. Stammerjohn, and O. Schofield. 2009. Recent changes in phytoplankton communities associated with rapid regional climate change along the western Antarctic Peninsula. Science 323:1,470–1,473, https://doi.org/10.1126/science.1164533.

Perovich, D.K. 2011. The changing Arctic sea ice cover. Oceanography 24(3):162–173, https://doi.org/10.5670/oceanog.2011.68.

Perovich, D.K., B.C. Elder, K.J. Claffey, S. Stammerjohn, R. Smith, S.F. Ackley, H.R. Krouse, and A.J. Gow. 2004. Winter sea-ice properties in Marguerite Bay, Antarctica. Deep Sea Research Part II 51:2,023–2,039, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.dsr2.2004.07.024.

Rothrock, D.A., Y. Yu, and G.A. Maykut. 1999. Thinning of the Arctic sea-ice cover. Geophysical Research Letters 26(23):3,469–3,472, https://doi.org/10.1029/1999GL010863.

Russell, J.L., R.J. Stouffer, and K.W. Dixon. 2006. Intercomparison of the Southern Ocean circulations in IPCC coupled model control simulations. Journal of Climate 19:4,560–4,575, https://doi.org/10.1175/JCLI3869.1.

Saenz, B.T., and K.R. Arrigo. 2012. Simulation of a sea ice ecosystem using a hybrid model for slush layer desalination. Journal of Geophysical Research 117, C05007, https://doi.org/10.1029/2011JC007544.

Serreze, M.C., and C.M. Hurst. 2000. Representation of mean Arctic precipitation from NCEP-NCAR and ERA reanalysis. Journal of Climate 13(1):182–201, https://doi.org/10.1175/1520-0442(2000)013<0182:ROMAPF>2.0.CO;2.

Sigmond, M., and J.C. Fyfe. 2010. Has the ozone hole contributed to increased Antarctic sea ice extent? Geophysical Research Letters 37, L18502, https://doi.org/10.1029/2010GL044301.

Stammerjohn, S.E., D.G. Martinson, R.C. Smith, X. Yuan and D. Rind. 2008. Trends in Antarctic annual sea ice retreat and advance and their relation to ENSO and Southern Annular Mode variability. Journal of Geophysical Research 113, C03S90, https://doi.org/10.1029/2007JC004269.

Stammerjohn, S., R. Massom, D. Rind, and D. Martinson. 2012. Regions of rapid sea ice change: An inter-hemispheric seasonal comparison. Geophysical Research Letters 39, L06501, https://doi.org/10.1029/2012GL050874.

Steele, M., and T. Boyd. 1998. Retreat of the cold halocline layer in the Arctic Ocean. Journal of Geophysical Research 103(C5):10,419–10,435, https://doi.org/10.1029/98JC00580.

Strass, V.H., and E. Fahrbach. 1998. Temporal and regional variation of sea ice draft and coverage in the Weddell Sea obtained from upward looking sonars. Pp. 123–139 in Antarctic Sea Ice: Physical Processes, Interactions and Variability. Antarctic Research Series, vol. 74, M.O. Jeffries, ed., American Geophysical Union, Washington, DC.

Stroeve, J., M.M. Holland, W. Meier, T. Scambos, and M. Serreze. 2007. Arctic sea ice decline: Faster than forecast. Geophysical Research Letters 34, L09501, https://doi.org/10.1029/2007GL029703.

Thompson, D.W.J., S. Solomon, P.J. Kushner, M.H. England, K.M. Grise, and D.J. Karoly. 2011. Signatures of the Antarctic ozone hole in Southern Hemisphere surface climate change. Nature Geoscience 4:741–749, https://doi.org/10.1038/ngeo1296.

Tin, T., and M.O. Jeffries. 2003. Morphology of deformed first-year sea ice features in the Southern Ocean. Cold Regions Science and Technology 36:141–163, https://doi.org/10.1016/S0165-232X(03)00008-9.

Turner, J., J.C. Comiso, G.J. Marshall, T.A. Lachlan-Cope, T. Bracegirdle, T. Maksym, M.P. Meredith, and Z. Wang. 2009. Non-annular atmospheric circulation change induced by stratospheric ozone depletion and its role in the recent increase of Antarctic sea ice extent. Geophysical Research Letters 36, L08502, https://doi.org/10.1029/2009GL037524.

Turner, J., and J. Overland. 2009. Contrasting climate change in the two polar regions. Polar Research 28:146–164, https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1751-8369.2009.00128.x.

Vancoppenolle, M., H. Goosse, A. de Montety, T. Fichefet, B. Tremblay, and J.-L. Tison. 2010. Modeling brine and nutrient dynamics in Antarctic sea ice: The case of dissolved silica. Journal of Geophysical Research 115, C02005, https://doi.org/10.1029/2009JC005369.

Wadhams, P., M.A. Lange, and S.F. Ackley. 1987. The ice thickness distribution across the Atlantic sector of the Antarctic Ocean in midwinter. Journal of Geophysical Research 92(C13):14,535–14,552, https://doi.org/10.1029/JC092iC13p14535.

Weeks, W.F. 2010. On Sea Ice. University of Alaska Press, Fairbanks, 664 pp.

Worby, A.P., C.A. Geiger, M.J. Paget, M.L. Van Woert, S.F. Ackley, and T.L. DeLiberty. 2008a. Thickness distribution of Antarctic sea ice. Journal of Geophysical Research 113, C05S92, https://doi.org/10.1029/2007JC004254.

Worby, A.P., T. Markus, A. Steer, V.I. Lytle, and R. Massom. 2008b. Evaluation of AMSR-E snow depth product over East Antarctic sea ice using in situ measurements and aerial photography. Journal of Geophysical Research 113, C05S94, https://doi.org/10.1029/2007JC004181.

Worby, A.P., R.A. Massom, I. Allison, V.I. Lytle, and P. Heil. 1998. East Antarctic sea ice: A review of its structure, properties and drift. Pp. 41–67 in Antarctic Sea Ice: Physical Processes, Interactions and Variability. Antarctic Research Series, vol. 74, M.O. Jeffries, ed., American Geophysical Union, Washington, D.C.

Worby, A.P., A. Steer, J. Lieser, P. Heil, D. Yi, T. Markus, I. Allison, R.A. Massom, N. Galin, and J. Zwally. 2011. Regional-scale sea-ice and snow thickness distributions from in situ and satellite measurements over East Antarctica during SIPEX 2007. Deep Sea Research Part II 58:1,125–1,136, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.dsr2.2010.12.001.

Xie, H., S.F. Ackley, D. Yi, H.J. Zwally, P. Wagner, B. Weissling, M. Lewis, and K. Ye. 2011. Sea ice thickness distribution of the Bellingshausen Sea from surface measurements and ICESat altimetry. Deep Sea Research Part II 58(9–10):1,039–1,051, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.dsr2.2010.10.038.

Yi, D., H.J. Zwally, and J.W. Robbins. 2011. ICESat observations of seasonal and interannual variations of sea-ice freeboard and estimated thickness in the Weddell Sea (2003–2009). Annals of Glaciology 52(57):43–51, https://doi.org/10.3189/172756411795931480.

Yuan, X. 2004. ENSO-related impacts on Antarctic sea ice: A synthesis of phenomenon and mechanisms. Antarctic Science 16:415–425, https://doi.org/10.1017/S0954102004002238.

Zhang, J. 2007. Increasing Antarctic sea ice under warming atmospheric and oceanic conditions. Journal of Climate 20:2,515–2,529, https://doi.org/10.1175/JCLI4136.1.

Zwally, H.J., D. Yi, R. Kwok, and Y. Zhao. 2008. ICESat measurements of sea ice freeboard and estimates of sea ice thickness in the Weddell Sea. Journal of Geophysical Research 113, C02S15, https://doi.org/10.1029/2007JC004284.

Copyright & Usage

This is an open access article made available under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/), which permits use, sharing, adaptation, distribution, and reproduction in any medium or format as long as users cite the materials appropriately, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate the changes that were made to the original content. Images, animations, videos, or other third-party material used in articles are included in the Creative Commons license unless indicated otherwise in a credit line to the material. If the material is not included in the article’s Creative Commons license, users will need to obtain permission directly from the license holder to reproduce the material.