Polar Ice Cap Facts

What are the Polar Ice Cap Facts?

Polar Ice Cap Facts

Polar Ice Cap Facts

There is much debate and disagreement about global warming and the melting of the polar ice caps.

It is important to know the facts about the Polar ice caps because the polar ice affects the earth’s rise in sea level, changes in the ocean’s circulation, as well as changes the earth’s temperature.

What are the Polar Ice Caps?

The ice caps are vast, sometimes domed sheets of ice that cover polar region areas.  The polar regions are the Arctic region, commonly known as the North Pole, and the Antarctic region, known as the South Pole.  Earth’s polar regions are the areas surrounding 90 degrees north of the equator (the North Pole), and 90 degrees south (the South Pole), respectively.  It is not just the earth that has polar ice caps. Interestingly, the moon is also thought to contain ice, in its deep polar regions, and Mars has ice caps as well.

While we know that ice caps are a body of solid state matter in the polar region

A polar ice cap is a covering of ice of any size on a high latitude region of a planet.

(Rather confusingly in non-polar regions an ice cap must be an ice mass covering less than 50,000 km2 of land area, and an ice mass larger than this is called an ice sheet, or glacier.)

Often the terms ice caps and ice sheet are used interchangeably to describe the polar ice caps.

Polar climate

Polar regions have extremely cold climates, and ice caps form here due to a number of factors.  The polar regions receive less intense solar radiation, because it is sometimes hidden by the earth’s daily rotation.  The sun also has to travel the longest distance to reach the polar regions, and the solar energy is scattered or reflected before it gets to the poles.  The axial tilt of the earth has a major effect on the climate of the polar regions, since they are the furthest from the equator, they receive the least amount of sunlight, making polar ice caps or glaciers possible.

Approximately 80 percent of the sunlight that strikes the polar ice caps, is reflected by the ice, resulting in very cold climates in the polar regions.  This cycle continues, with cold climates, ice caps are formed, and with ice caps, colder climates prevail.  Because of the location of the polar regions, the average temperature for the warmest month of July is only 50 degrees.  The average winter temperature is 40 degrees below zero, and any precipitation mostly comes in the form of snow.  With the extremely cold temperatures, the snows turn to additional layers of ice, and it perpetuates with very little solar radiation.

Forming of the Polar Ice Caps

Initially formed as snow, the ice caps or glaciers build up year after year, creating a thick layer of ice.  In the Eocene-Oligocene transition period over 34 million years ago, there was a rapid development of a continental ice sheet on Antarctica, and the giant ice sheet, or glacier for the most part, remains covered in floating packs of ice in the Arctic, and the giant ice sheets stay intact year-round in Antarctica.

Polar Ice Caps Effect on the planet

Ice caps have a direct effect on aspects of the weather, and water cycle, even though they are not moving.  Because ice caps reflect sunlight and heat, air temperatures can be higher, a mile above the ice caps, and wind patterns, which affect weather systems, can be dramatic around these landscapes covered with ice.

Over 70 percent of the earth’s fresh water is locked in the frozen ice masses of Antarctica, with an average ice thickness of over a mile.  Polar ice cap melting would create a rise in sea levels, and a sudden collapse of West Antarctic ice sheets could raise sea levels from 16-20 feet.

While the ice caps are beautiful to look at, and may be on the New Wonders of the World list, they serve a purpose in earth cycles.  It is shown that the ice caps are shrinking almost 9 percent each decade.

What happens if Polar Ice Caps Melt?

If the polar ice masses disappear, many dramatic changes will happen as a result.  Some of these possible effects of the polar ice cap disappearing are:

Temperatures:  The earth will absorb more sunlight and become hotter, due to the sun not being reflected by the ice caps.

Sea levels:  The sea levels will rise, beach erosion and coastal flooding along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts will occur, and freshwater supplies will be contaminated.

Weather pattern Changes:  Weather patterns will be affected by the other changes due to shrinking ice caps, eventually affecting food production.

These are but a few drastic changes that may occur if the ice caps disappear.

Causes of Polar Ice Caps melting

There are many reasons for changes in the ice caps, but one reason in particular that is discussed, is Global Warming.  There are thousands of scientists working at several dozen research stations, maintained by the various members of the Arctic Council, who are still striving to find answers as to why the ice is disappearing.  Whether it is due to man-made pollution, or whether it is a natural phenomenon, or whether a combination of both is yet to be proven definitely.  Changes to the polar ice caps are getting acute attention, because the results that could happen if they disappear are potentially catastrophic. Knowing the facts about the Polar Ice Caps has never been more important.


Polar Ice Caps Melting

3 Responses to “Polar Ice Cap Facts”
  1. Kevin Kulp 21 November 2012 at 11:25 pm #

    If all of the Polar ice caps melted, How high would the Sea level rise?
    I tried googling the answer, but couldn’t figure out where to get it.


    Kevin Kulp

    • Maria Dover 1 April 2013 at 8:51 pm #


    • Carter Anderson 16 December 2013 at 11:18 pm #

      Due to the ice melting, it transitions from being a solid at the poles, and displaces throughout the oceans it is connected to. Dispersing this much water causes the seas to become more full and therefore rise. Did I explain well enough?

Leave a Reply to Maria Dover