An overview is presented of Antarctic and Arctic sea ice studies using data from the Nimbus-5 ESMR and the Nimbus-7 SMMR passive microwave radiometers. Four years (1973-1976) of ESMR data for the Antarctic Ocean define the characteristics of the seasonal cycle including regional contrasts and interannual variations. Major advances include the discovery of the Weddell polynya and the presence of substantial areas of open water in the Antarctic winter pack ice. Regional differences in sea ice extent on time-scales of about a month are shown to be associated with variations in surface-wind fields. In the Arctic, the computation of sea ice concentration is complicated by the presence of multiyear ice, but the amount of multiyear ice becomes an important measurable quantity with dual-polarized, multifrequency passive microwave sensors. Analysis of SMMR data demonstrates its advantage for studying the spatial and temporal variability of the Arctic ice cover. Large observed interannual variations in the distribution of the multiyear pack ice and the presence of significant divergent areas in the central Arctic during winter contrast markedly with the classical view of the Arctic pack ice.