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article imageThe North Pole is becoming warmer, the South Pole is becoming colder

By Bart B. Van Bockstaele     May 13, 2008 in Environment
During the past few months, the Polarstern ploughed through the thick ice of the South Pole. Shortly before that, it was at the North Pole. It turns out that the North Pole is becoming warmer and that the South Pole is becoming colder.
During the past year, Antarctica has not become warmer, but colder. The driving force behind this cooling are ice cold deep water currents in the Antarctic Ocean, say about twenty oceanographers who travelled with the Polarstern, an international research boat.
Hein de Baar, researcher for the Nederlands Instituut voor Onderzoek der Zee (NIOZ - Dutch Institute for Research of the Sea) and associate professor at the University of Groningen coordinates the work of thirty of the researchers that were on board.
Noorderlicht, a leading scientific blog in The Netherlands, reports that De Baar says that graphs clearly show that the ice on the South Pole is gradually becoming thicker. However, he says, just plain common sense can tell you that as well. During the past year, it was virtually impossible to get through the ice.
De Baar has also seen with his own eyes that the ice at the other side of the planet, the North Pole, has broken all records in September 2007. He expects it not to be the last. "We think that in forty years time there will be no more ice at all on the North Pole after the summer. But, if we apply new calculations, it may well be from 2015 onwards. White sea-ice reflects sunlight. The pitch-black water that replaces the ice, absorbs that light, and this accelerates the melting."
De Baar's own research concentrates on iron. Iron is the only element that is really rare around the poles and algae (phytoplankton) need iron in order to convert carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, in nourishing sugars. This way, algae have a significant influence on the climate.
"This year, we have studied water columns of five kilometres high at the South Pole, There is a lot more iron than we had previously thought." Earlier, De Baar had experimented with adding iron to the water around Antarctica in order to stem global warming, but that failed. The iron particles sink immediately and it is far too dark for algae down there.
Doing research at the Poles is not an easy enterprise. The Polar Stern carries about 50 researchers who often work in shifts, 8 hours on, 8 hours off. They have to carry absolutely everything they need for their research, for food, for everything else. "But, " says De Baar, "it is very stimulating". He just loves his job.
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