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Arctic Hits Seasonal Low for Sea Ice as Antarctica Sets Record

More sea ice than ever around Antarctica, not so much in the Arctic. The extent of ice in the Arctic hit its seasonal low last week, registering the sixth-lowest level since the use of satellites for measurements began in 1979, the National Snow and Ice Data Center reported Monday. The lowest-ever extent in the Arctic was in 2012, when just 1.32 million square miles (3.41 million square kilometers) of ice was recorded. This year’s extent was down just a tad from last year, with 1.94 million square miles (5.02 million square kilometers).

In the Antarctic, where it’s winter, the story was different. The center said that on Sept. 19, the five-day average of sea ice extent surpassed 7.72 million square miles (20 million square kilometers), a record in the satellite era. And the extent still could grow: The center said it wouldn’t report the official Antarctic maximum until October. The reasons for record-setting sea ice? Scientists posit that unusual wind patterns are contributing, as is melting of the underside of ice shelves, which may be contributing to fresher surface waters.

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— Gil Aegerter