Polar Ice, Majestic and Shrinking

Breathtaking, glistening, fragile -- these are three words that describe Iceland's Glacier Lagoon.

The lagoon is new, believed to come from surrounding polar ice that melted as a result of global warming.

"Good Morning America's" Sam Champion traveled to the lagoon to unveil what many argue should be one of the new Seven Wonders of the World -- the polar ice caps.

Global Air Conditioning at Risk

The glacial cliffs and sculptures of the Arctic seem remote from our daily lives, but they are in a very real way responsible for life on Earth.

The bright, white ice of the Arctic regulates the planet's temperature by reflecting solar energy back into space.

Deep blue oceans, on the other hand, absorb 90 percent of the sunlight that strikes them.

Polar ice sheets act as floating ice cubes in our blue planet, helping to create just the right climate conditions for life.

A number of recent studies highlight a growing problem in the Arctic. The ice on both the North and South Poles is melting, and faster than previously thought.

Sometimes the ice melts quietly; sometimes it dramatically "calves," tumbling into the water in chunks.

NASA satellites have been monitoring polar ice since the 1970s and have found the perennial ice -- the kind that stays frozen all year -- shrinking at a rate of about 10 percent per decade.

Between 2004 and 2005 alone, Arctic ice diminished by 14 percent.

Life at the Poles

Both the North and South Poles experience full summer days of sunlight and full winter days of darkness, depending on which one is closest to the sun.

At the South Pole, ice sheets that are half a million years old blanket a continent bigger than Australia and drier than the Sahara Desert.

Some call Antarctica the "White Desert" -- the tiny amount of precipitation the region receives qualifies it as a desert.

But unlike most, it's a chilly one. Ninety percent of the world's ice is in Antarctica, as is the world's lowest recorded temperature: negative 128.6 degrees Fahrenheit.

The wide open whiteness of polar ice seems bereft of life, but many animals -- like lemmings, sea otters, and of course, polar bears -- are adapted to live in Arctic homes.

There are no permanent human residents of Antarctica, but as many as 1,000 scientists and other staff live at the McCurdo research station during the summer.

McCurdo is vast, with three airfields, more than 100 buildings, and even a bowling alley.

The North Pole is significantly warmer, with a toasty average temperature of negative 34 degrees Fahrenheit.

Still, no permanent station -- beside Santa's fabled workshop -- exists at the pole because there is no land, only shifting sea ice floating in the Arctic Ocean.

The North Pole boasts true polar ice, formed from sea water, while the South Pole sits on ice sheets and glaciers over a land mass.

Frozen Water or a Wonder?

Most of "GMA's" panelists agreed that the beautiful, disappearing polar ice caps should be one of the new wonders of the world. But one panelist saw no wonder in the water.

"I don't think it's a wonder. It's frozen water," astrophysicist Neil Degrasse Tyson said.

Bruce Feiler, a panelist and an acclaimed author, explained his reasoning for supporting the ice caps.

"I think that the polar ice caps is a wonderful example of a natural phenomenon that has come to be seen in a new light," he said.

For more information on the polar ice caps, please visit the National Science Foundation's Office of Polar Programs.

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