Polar ice packs are large areas of pack ice formed from seawater in the Earth's polar regions, known as polar ice caps: the Arctic ice pack (or Arctic ice cap) of the Arctic Ocean and the Antarctic ice pack of the Southern Ocean, fringing the Antarctic ice sheet. Polar packs significantly change their size during seasonal changes of the year. However, underlying this seasonal variation, there is an underlying trend of melting as part of a more general process of Arctic shrinkage.
In spring and summer, when melting occurs, the margins of the sea ice retreat. The vast bulk of the world's sea ice forms in the Arctic ocean and the Southern Ocean, around Antarctica. The Antarctic ice cover is highly seasonal, with very little ice in the austral summer, expanding to an area roughly equal to that of Antarctica in winter. Consequently, most Antarctic sea ice is first year ice, up to 1 meter thick. The situation in the Arctic is very different (a polar sea surrounded by land, as opposed to a polar continent surrounded by sea) and the seasonal variation much less, currently 28% of Arctic basin sea ice is multi-year ice, thicker than seasonal: up to 3–4 meters thick over large areas, with ridges up to 20 meters thick.
The amount of sea ice around the poles in winter varies from the Antarctic with 18,000,000 km² to the Arctic with 15,000,000 km². The amount melted each summer is affected by the different environments: the cold Antarctic pole is over land, which is bordered by sea ice in the freely-circulating Southern Ocean.