Summer Ice and Carbon Dioxide

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Science  30 Oct 1981:
Vol. 214, Issue 4520, pp. 497-503
DOI: 10.1126/science.214.4520.497


The extent of Antarctic pack ice in the summer, as charted from satellite imagery, decreased by 2.5 million square kilometers between 1973 and 1980. The U.S. Navy and Russian atlases and whaling and research ship reports from the 1930's indicate that summer ice conditions earlier in this century were heavier than the current average. Surface air temperatures along the seasonally shifting belt of melting snow between 55° and 80°N during spring and summer were higher in 1974 to 1978 than in 1934 to 1938. The observed departures in the two hemispheres qualitatively agree with the predicted impact of an increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide. However, since it is not known to, what extent the changes in snow and ice cover and in temperature can be explained by the natural variability of the climate system or by other processes unrelated to carbon dioxide, a cause-and-effect relation cannot yet be established.