Polar Ice, Majestic and Shrinking

ByABC News via GMA logo
November 12, 2006, 6:22 PM

Nov. 13, 2006 — -- 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.

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.

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.