Although one might think the Arctic and Antarctic seem basically the same climate wise, they are actually noticeably different. Likewise, they are also affected differently by climate change. Both areas have melting ice, however the two poles have it for a different reason.
The main reason for the difference in climate is the positioning of land around the poles. The North Pole consists of an ocean surrounded by land, while the South Pole is the opposite, a land mass surrounded by ocean. Although this detail may seem meaningless, it actually has a drastic effect on the temperature of the poles.
The Southern Ocean is the only place where there is a ring of ocean, unbroken by land, surrounding the earth. This causes ocean currents to circle Antarctica in what is known as the Circumpolar Current. This current is one of the strongest in the world, and causes massive waves in the Southern Ocean. These waves make countries like South Africa and New Zealand ideal for surfing, but make reaching Antarctica a difficult ordeal. The Circumpolar Current also insulates the continent from warmer air farther north, making it much colder than the Arctic.
Unlike the North Pole, the South Pole has not seen an unusual loss of sea ice. Climate change deniers often misuse this as evidence that there is no global warming. This does not mean the continent has not been affected by climate change. Although sea ice is not melting, glacial ice, which forms on land, is a different story. Antarctica's center has a relatively low elevation compared to the coast. Because of this, it is often referred to as a "bowl." This low elevation has recently exposed the area to warm underground water currents created by global warming.
The situation at the North Pole poses an even larger threat. Instead of warm underground water, the glacial ice and sea ice in the Arctic is being melted by warm summer air, heated by the extra sunlight trapped by greenhouse gasses. These gasses come from burning coal, oil, and gas, and once released, trap extra heat from the sun, causing the average temperature to increase.
In 2013, researchers made a startling discovery about melting ice. Water that has melted off glaciers often stays in the glacier, seeping into the cracks in the ice. The glacier then insulates the water, causing it to stay liquid for the whole year. Having a wetter surface causes glaciers to absorb more sunlight, further melting them. Being wetter also makes ice sheets weaker and less rigid, which could present an entire new set of problems on its own.
Whereas Antarctica has very few inhabitants, the Arctic has a small but considerable population. This population is facing many challenges caused by climate change. Permafrost (frozen dirt) has been eroding like sand after thawing for the first time in thousands of years, and coastlines are crumbling without the support of sea ice.
These issues can, in theory, be prevented. Although green house gas emissions would have to be almost entirely halted, scientists say we could theoretically switch completely to clean energy. Then we can finally start to reverse the damage that we have already caused.