Newspaper article International New York Times

In Climate-Change Debate, a Rising Sea of Confusion ; Antarctic Ice Increasing, Scientists Say, but That Doesn't Tell Whole Story

Newspaper article International New York Times

In Climate-Change Debate, a Rising Sea of Confusion ; Antarctic Ice Increasing, Scientists Say, but That Doesn't Tell Whole Story

Article excerpt

Skeptics had a field day when a ship became stuck in the Antarctic, but sea ice in the zone is changing, be it from global warming or other factors.

When a Russian ship carrying scientists and adventure tourists became stuck in ice in the Antarctic late last month, climate change skeptics had a field day. On Twitter and other social media sites, they pointed out that a group whose journey was meant to highlight the effects of global warming was trapped by a substance that was supposed to be melting.

"Global warming idiots out of danger," one noted when the ship's 52 passengers were finally helicoptered to safety on Thursday after over a week on the ice.

The episode had little connection to climate change -- shifting winds had caused loose pack ice to jam against the ship -- and this was far from the first time that a ship had been trapped, even in the Antarctic summer. But sea ice cover in the Antarctic is changing, and scientists see the influence of climate change, although they say natural climate variability may be at work, too.

"The truth is, we don't fully understand what's going on," said Ted Maksym, a researcher at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.

Unlike the Arctic, where sharp declines in recent decades in the ice that floats on sea surfaces have been linked to warming, sea ice in the Antarctic has actually increased, scientists who study the region say. Averaged over the entire Antarctic coast, the increase is slight -- about 1 percent a decade. At the same time, larger increases and decreases are being seen on parts of the continent.

"We're constantly struggling against that statement, that Antarctic ice is increasing," said Sharon E. Stammerjohn, a scientist at the Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research at the University of Colorado. "It misses key changes that are happening. And there are really strong climate signals in those changes."

Most of the sea ice changes are occurring in an area covering about a third of the Antarctic coast, from the Ross Sea to the Bellingshausen Sea and the Antarctic Peninsula, said Paul Holland, a researcher with the British Antarctic Survey. …

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