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Early conceptual models and global climate model (GCM) simulations both indicated the likelihood of an enhanced sensitivity to climate change in the polar regions, derived from the positive feedbacks brought about by snow and ice. As GCMs developed, however, the expected enhanced sensitivity has been more robust in the North Polar Region than the South Polar Region. Some recent increased-CO2 simulations, for instance, show little change in Southern Ocean sea ice extent and thickness and much less warming in the Southern Ocean region than in the sea ice regions of the Northern Hemisphere. Observations show a highly variable Southern Ocean ice cover that decreased significantly in the 1970s but, overall, has increased since the late 1970s. The increases are non-uniform, and in fact decreases occurred in the last three years of the 1979–2002 satellite record highlighted here. Regionally, the positive trends since the late 1970s are strongest in the Ross Sea, while the trends are negative in the Bellingshausen and Amundsen seas, a pattern that appears in greater spatial detail in maps of trends in the length of the sea ice season. These patterns correspond well with patterns of temperature trends, but there is a substantial way to go before they are understood (and can be modelled) in the full context of global change.
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