Skip to main content Accessibility help

Comparing and contrasting the behaviour of Arctic and Antarctic sea ice over the 35 year period 1979-2013

  • Ian Simmonds (a1)


We examine the evolution of sea-ice extent (SIE) over both polar regions for 35 years from November 1978 to December 2013, as well as for the global total ice (Arctic plus Antarctic). Our examination confirms the ongoing loss of Arctic sea ice, and we find significant (p˂ 0.001) negative trends in all months, seasons and in the annual mean. The greatest rate of decrease occurs in September, and corresponds to a loss of 3 x 106 km2 over 35 years. The Antarctic shows positive trends in all seasons and for the annual mean (p˂0.01), with summer attaining a reduced significance (p˂0.10). Based on our longer record (which includes the remarkable year 2013) the positive Antarctic ice trends can no longer be considered ‘small’, and the positive trend in the annual mean of (15.29 ± 3.85) x 103 km2 a–1 is almost one-third of the magnitude of the Arctic annual mean decrease. The global annual mean SIE series exhibits a trend of (–35.29 ± 5.75) x 103 km2 a-1 (p<0.01). Finally we offer some thoughts as to why the SIE trends in the Coupled Model Intercomparison Phase 5 (CMIP5) simulations differ from the observed Antarctic increases.

  • View HTML
    • Send article to Kindle

      To send this article to your Kindle, first ensure is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about sending to your Kindle. Find out more about sending to your Kindle.

      Note you can select to send to either the or variations. ‘’ emails are free but can only be sent to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

      Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

      Comparing and contrasting the behaviour of Arctic and Antarctic sea ice over the 35 year period 1979-2013
      Available formats

      Send article to Dropbox

      To send this article to your Dropbox account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Dropbox.

      Comparing and contrasting the behaviour of Arctic and Antarctic sea ice over the 35 year period 1979-2013
      Available formats

      Send article to Google Drive

      To send this article to your Google Drive account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Google Drive.

      Comparing and contrasting the behaviour of Arctic and Antarctic sea ice over the 35 year period 1979-2013
      Available formats



Hide All
Adler, RF and 12 others (2003) The Version-2 Global Precipitation Climatology Project (GPCP) monthly precipitation analysis (1979–present). J. Hydromet.,4(6), 11471167 (doi: 10.1175/ 1525-7541(2003)0042.0.CO;2)
Bajish, CC, Aoki, S, Taguchi, B, Komori, N and Kim, S-J (2013) Quasidecadal circumpolar variability of Antarctic sea ice. SOLA, 9, 3235 (doi: 10.2151/sola.2013-008)
Bengtsson, L, Hodges, KI, Koumoutsaris, S, Zahn, M and Berrisford, P (2013) The changing energy balance of the polar regions in a warmer climate. J. Climate,26(10), 31123129 (doi: 10.1175/ JCLI-D-12-00233.1)
Bindoff, Nand 14 others (2013) Detection and attribution of climate change: from global to regional. In Stocker, TF and 9 others eds. Climate change 2013: the physical science basis. Contributions of Working Group 1 to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge and New York
Bintanja, R, Van Oldenborgh, GJ, Drijfhout, SS, Wouters, Band Katsman, CA (2013) Important role for ocean warming and increased ice-shelf melt in Antarctic sea-ice expansion. Nature Geosci.,6(5), 376379 (doi: 10.1038/ngeo1767)
Blanchard-Wrigglesworth, E, Armour, KC and Bitz, CM (2011) Persistence and inherent predictability of Arctic sea ice in a GCM ensemble and observations. J. Climate,24(1), 231250 (doi: 10.1175/2010JCLI3775.1)
Bracegirdle, TJ and Marshall, GJ (2012) The reliability of Antarctic tropospheric pressure and temperature in the latest global renanalyses. J. Climate,25(20), 71387146 (doi: 10.1175/JCLID- 11-00685.1)
Cavalieri, DJ and Parkinson, CL (2008) Antarctic sea ice variability and trends, 1979–2006. J. Geophys. Res., 113(C7), C07004 (doi: 10.1029/2007JC004564)
Cavalieri, DJ and Parkinson, CL (2012) Arctic sea ice variability and trends, 1979–2010. Cryosphere,6(4), 881889 (doi: 10.5194/tc- 6-881-2012)
Cavalieri, DJ, Parkinson, CL, Gloersen, P, Comiso, JC and Zwally, HJ (1999) Deriving long-term time series of sea ice cover from satellite passive-microwave multisensor datasets. J. Geophys. Res., 104(C7), 15 803–15 814 (doi: 10.1029/1999JC900081)
Cavalieri, DJ, Parkinson, CL, DiGirolamo, Nand Ivanoff, A(2012) Intersensor calibration between F13 SSMI and F17 SSMIS for global sea ice data records. IEEE Geosci. Remote Sens. Lett.,9(2), 233236 (doi: 10.1109/LGRS.2011.2166754)
Comiso, JC (2012) Large decadal decline of the Arctic multiyear ice cover. J. Climate,25(4), 11761193 (doi: 10.1175/JCLI-D-11- 00113.1)
Dee, DP and 35 others (2011) The ERA-Interim reanalysis: configuration and performance of the data assimilation system. Q. J. R. Meteorol. Soc.,137(656), 553597 (doi: 10.1002/qj.828)
Eisenman, I, Schneider, T, Battisti, DS and Bitz, CM (2011) Consistent changes in the sea ice seasonal cycle in response to global warming. J. Climate, 24(20), 53255335 (doi: 10.1175/ 2011JCLI4051.1)
Enomoto, Hand Ohmura, A (1990) The influences of atmospheric half-yearly cycle on the sea ice extent in the Antarctic. J. Geophys. Res.,95(C6), 94979511 (doi: 10.1029/JC095iC06p09497)
Fetterer, F, Knowles, K, Meier, Wand Savoie, M (2002). Sea ice index (updated 2013). National Snow and Ice Data Center, Boulder, CO
Hellmer, HH (2004) Impact of Antarctic ice shelf basal melting on sea ice and deep ocean properties. Geophys. Res. Lett., 31(10), L10307 (doi: 10.1029/2004GL019506)
Holland, PR and Kwok, R (2012) Wind-driven trends in Antarctic sea-ice drift. Nature Geosci.,5(12), 872875 (doi: 10.1038/ ngeo1627)
Jacobs, SS, Jenkins, A, Giulivi, CF and Dutrieux, P(2011) Stronger ocean circulation and increased melting under Pine Island Glacier ice shelf. Nature Geosci.,4(8), 519523 (doi: 10.1038/ ngeo1188)
Joughin, I, Alley, RB and Holland, DM (2012) Ice-sheet response to oceanic forcing. Science,338(6111), 11721176 (doi: 10.1126/ science.1226481)
Kinnard, C, Zdanowicz, CM, Fisher, DA, Isaksson, E, De Vernal, Aand Thompson, LG (2011) Reconstructed changes in Arctic sea ice over the past 1,450 years. Nature,479(7374), 509512 (doi: 10.1038/nature10581)
Lefebvre, Wand Goosse, H(2008) An analysis of the atmospheric processes driving the large-scale winter sea ice variability in the Southern Ocean. J. Geophys. Res., 113(C2), C02004 (doi: 10.1029/2006JC004032)
Mahlstein, I, Gent, PR and Solomon, S(2013) Historical Antarctic mean sea ice area, sea ice trends, and winds in CMIP5 simulations. J. Geophys. Res.,118(11), 51055110 (doi: 10.1002/jgrd.50443)
Maksym, T, Stammerjohn, SE, Ackley, Sand Massom, R(2012) Antarctic sea ice – a polar opposite. Oceanography,25(3), 140151 (doi: 10.5670/oceanog.2012.88)
Marshall, GJ (2003) Trends in the southern annular mode from observations and reanalyses. J. Climate,16(24), 41344143 (doi: 10.1175/1520-0442(2003)016<4134:TITSAM>2.0.CO;2)
Maslanik, J, Drobot, S, Fowler, C, Emery, Wand Barry, R (2007) On the Arctic climate paradox and the continuing role of atmospheric circulation in affecting sea ice conditions. Geophys. Res. Lett., 34(3), L03711 (doi: 10.1029/2006GL028269)
Ogi, Mand Rigor, IG (2013) Trends in Arctic sea ice and the role of atmospheric circulation. Atmos. Sci. Lett.,14(2), 97101 (doi: 10.1002/asl2.423)
Ogi, Mand Wallace, JM (2012) The role of summer surface wind anomalies in the summer Arctic sea ice extent in 2010 and 2011. Geophys. Res. Lett., 39(9), L09704 (doi: 10.1029/ 2012GL051330)
Ogi, M, Yamazaki, Kand Wallace, JM (2010) Influence of winter and summer surface wind anomalies on summer Arctic sea ice extent. Geophys. Res. Lett., 37(7), L07701 (doi: 10.1029/ 2009GL042356)
Overland, JE and Wang, M(2010) Large-scale atmospheric circulation changes are associated with the recent loss of Arctic sea ice. Tellus,62(1), 19 (doi: 10.1111/j.1600-0870.2009.00421.x)
Parkinson, CL and Cavalieri, DJ (2012) Antarctic sea ice variability and trends, 1979–2010. Cryosphere,6(4), 871880 (doi: 10.5194/tc-6-871-2012)
Pezza, AB, Rashid, HA and Simmonds, I(2012) Climate links and recent extremes in Antarctic sea ice, high-latitude cyclones, Southern Annular Mode and ENSO. Climate Dyn., 38 (1–2), 57–73 (doi: 10.1007/s00382-011-1044-y)
Pistone, K, Eisenman, I and Ramanathan, V (2014) Observational determination of albedo decrease caused by vanishing Arctic sea ice. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA (PNAS),111(9), 33223326 (doi: 10.1073/pnas.1318201111)
Polvani, LM and Smith, KL (2013) Can natural variability explain observed Antarctic sea ice trends? New modeling evidence from CMIP5. Geophys. Res. Lett.,40(12), 31953199 (doi: 10.1002/ grl.50578)
Polyak, L and 17 others (2010) History of sea ice in the Arctic. Quat. Sci. Rev., 29(15–16), 1757–1778 (doi: 10.1016/j.quascirev. 2010.02.010)
Pritchard, HD, Ligtenberg, SRM, Fricker, HA, Vaughan, DG, Van den Broeke, MR and Padman, L (2012) Antarctic ice-sheet loss driven by basal melting of ice shelves. Nature,484(7395), 502505 (doi: 10.1038/nature10968)
Rashid, HA and Simmonds, I (2005) Southern Hemisphere annular mode variability and the role of optimal nonmodal growth. J. Atmos. Sci.,62(6), 19471961 (doi: 10.1175/ JAS3444.1)
Rignot, E, Jacobs, S, Mouginot, J and Scheuchl, B (2013) Ice shelf melting around Antarctica. Science,341(6143), 266270 (doi: 10.1126/science.1235798)
Screen, JA and Simmonds, I (2010) The central role of diminishing sea ice in recent Arctic temperature amplification. Nature,464(7293), 13341337 (doi: 10.1038/nature09051)
Screen, JA and Simmonds, I (2012) Declining summer snowfall in the Arctic: causes, impacts and feedbacks. Climate Dyn., 38(11–12), 2243–2256 (doi: 10.1007/s00382-011-1105-2)
Screen, JA, Simmonds, I and Keay, K (2011) Dramatic interannual changes of perennial Arctic sea ice linked to abnormal summer storm activity. J. Geophys. Res., 116(D15), D15105 (doi: 10.1029/2011JD015847)
Simmonds, I (2003) Modes of atmospheric variability over the Southern Ocean. J. Geophys. Res., 108(C4), 8078 (doi: 10.1029/ 2000JC000542)
Simmonds, I and Jacka, TH (1995) Relationships between the interannual variability of Antarctic sea ice and the Southern Oscillation. J. Climate,8(3), 637647 (doi: 10.1175/1520- 0442(1995)0082.0.CO;2)
Simmonds, I and Jones, DA (1998) The mean structure and temporal variability of the semiannual oscillation in the southern extratropics. Int. J. Climatol.,18(5), 473504
Simmonds, I and Keay, K (2009) Extraordinary September Arctic sea ice reductions and their relationships with storm behavior over 1979–2008. Geophys. Res. Lett., 36(19), L19715 (doi: 10.1029/ 2009GL039810)
Simmonds, I and King, JC (2004) Global and hemispheric climate variations affecting the Southern Ocean. Antarct. Sci.,16(4), 401413 (doi: 10.1017/S0954102004002226)
Simmonds, I and Rudeva, I (2012) The great Arctic cyclone of August 2012. Geophys. Res. Lett., 39(23), L23709 (doi: 10.1029/ 2012GL054259)
Simmonds, I, Keay, K and Lim, E-P (2003) Synoptic activity in the seas around Antarctica. Mon. Weather Rev.,131(2), 272288 (doi: 10.1175/1520-0493(2003)131)
Simmonds, I, Rafter, A, Cowan, T, Watkins, AB and Keay, K (2005) Large-scale vertical momentum, kinetic energy and moisture fluxes in the Antarctic sea-ice region. Bound.-Layer Meteorol.,117(1), 149177 (doi: 10.1007/s10546-004-5939-6)
Simmonds, I, Burke, C and Keay, K (2008) Arctic climate change as manifest in cyclone behavior. J. Climate,21(22), 57775796 (doi: 10.1029/2011JD015847)
Simpkins, GR, Ciasto, LM and England, MH (2013) Observed variations in multidecadal Antarctic sea ice trends during 1979–2012. Geophys. Res. Lett.,40(14), 36433648 (doi: 10.1002/grl.50715)
Spielhagen, RF and 8 others (2011) Enhanced modern heat transfer to the Arctic by warm Atlantic water. Science,331(6016), 450453 (doi: 10.1126/science.1197397)
Stouffer, RJ, Seidov, D and Haupt, BJ (2007) Climate response to external sources of freshwater: North Atlantic versus the Southern Ocean. J. Climate,20(3), 436448 (doi: 10.1175/JCLI4015.1)
Stroeve, JC, Serreze, MC, Holland, MM, Kay, JE, Malanik, J and Barrett, AP (2012a) The Arctic's rapidly shrinking sea ice cover: a research synthesis. Climatic Change, 110(3–4), 1005–1027 (doi: 10.1007/s10584-011-0101-1)
Stroeve, JC and 6 others (2012b) Trends in Arctic sea ice extent from CMIP5, CMIP3 and observations. Geophys. Res. Lett., 39(16), L16502 (doi: 10.1029/2012GL052676)
Swart, NC and Fyfe, JC (2012) Observed and simulated changes in the Southern Hemisphere surface westerly wind-stress. Geophys. Res. Lett., 39(16), L16711 (doi: 10.1029/2012GL052810)
Swart, NC and Fyfe, JC (2013) The influence of recent Antarctic ice sheet retreat on simulated sea ice area trends. Geophys. Res. Lett.,40(16), 43284332 (doi: 10.1002/grl.50820)
Turner, J and Overland, J (2009) Contrasting climate change in the two polar regions. Polar Res.,28(2), 146164 (doi: 10.1111/ j.1751-8369.2009.00128.x)
Turner, J and 8 others (2009) Non-annular atmospheric circulation change induced by stratospheric ozone depletion and its role in the recent increase of Antarctic sea ice extent. Geophys. Res. Lett., 36(8), L08502 (doi: 10.1029/2009GL037524)
Turner, J, Bracegirdle, TJ, Phillips, T, Marshall, GJ and Hosking, JS (2013) An initial asessment of Antarctic sea ice extent in the CMIP5 models. J. Climate,26(5), 14731484 (doi: 10.1175/ JCLI-D-12-00068.1)
Vihma, T, Tisler, P and Uotila, P (2012) Atmospheric forcing on the drift of Arctic sea ice in 1989–2009. Geophys. Res. Lett., 39(2), L02501 (doi: 10.1029/2011GL050118)
Walsh, JE (2013) Melting ice: what is happening to Arctic sea ice, and what does it mean for us. Oceanography,26(2), 171181 (doi: 10.5670/oceanog.2013.19)
Walsh, JE and Chapman, WL (2001) 20th-century sea-ice variations from observational data. Ann. Glaciol., 33, 444448 (doi: 10.3189/172756401781818671)
Wassermann, S, Schmitt, C, Kottmeier, C and Simmonds, I (2006) Coincident vortices in Antarctic wind fields and sea ice motion. Geophys. Res. Lett., 33(15), L15810 (doi: 10.1029/ 2006GL026005)
Watkins, AB and Simmonds, I (2000) Current trends in Antarctic sea ice: the 1990s impact on a short climatology. J. Climate,13(24), 44414451 (doi: 10.1175/1520-0442(2000)013<4441:CTIASI> 2.0.CO;2)
White, WB and Simmonds, I (2006) Sea surface temperature-induced cyclogenesis in the Antarctic circumpolar wave. J. Geophys. Res., 111(C8), C08011 (doi: 10.1029/2004JC002395)
Wohlleben, T and 6 others (2013) Computing and representing sea ice trends: toward a community consensus. Eos, 94(40), 352 (doi: 10.1002/2013EO400006)
Zunz, V, Goosse, H and Massonnet, F (2013) How does internal variability influence the ability of CMIP5 models to reproduce the recent trend in Southern Ocean sea ice extent. Cryosphere,7(2), 451468 (doi: 10.5194/tc-7-451-2013)
Zweng, MM and 10 others (2013) World Ocean Atlas 2013, Volume 2: Salinity. In Levitus, S ed. World Ocean Atlas 2013 (WOA13). (NOAA Atlas NESDIS 74) National Oceanographic Data Center, Silver, S pring, MD


Comparing and contrasting the behaviour of Arctic and Antarctic sea ice over the 35 year period 1979-2013

  • Ian Simmonds (a1)


Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed.