Feedbacks resulting from the retreat of sea ice and snow contribute to the polar amplification of the greenhouse warming projected by global climate models. A gridded sea-ice database, for which the record length is now approaching four decades for the Arctic and two decades for the Antarctic, is summarized here. The sea-ice fluctuations derived from the dataset are characterized by 1) temporal scales of several seasons to several years and 2) spatial scales of 30°–180° of longitude. The ice data are examined in conjunction with air temperature data for evidence of recent climate change in the polar regions. The arctic sea-ice variations over the past several decades are compatible with the corresponding air temperatures, which show a distinct warming that is strongest over northern land areas during the winter and spring. The temperature trends over the subarctic seas are smaller and even negative in the southern Greenland region. Statistically significant decreases of the summer extent of arctic ice are apparent in the sea-ice data, and new summer minima have been achieved three times in the past 15 years. There is no significant trend of ice extent in the Arctic during winter or in the Antarctic during any season. The seasonal and geographical changes of sea-ice coverage are consistent with the more recent greenhouse experiments performed with coupled atmosphere–ocean models.

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