Antarctica: the polar-white continent of ice caps. Not many people have ventured there – but yesterday, thanks to climate change, you could have visited in just a t-shirt.
If you were to ask your everyday person to describe Antarctica, a few things would probably come up: snow, ice, polar bears, penguins, Eskimos and igloos.
However, one thing people don’t associate with the seventh continent: heat. However, yesterday, you could have been catching some sweet rays (albeit, the looming onslaught of climate change is to blame).
Antarctica recorded its warmest ever temperature yesterday, February 6, reaching a high of 18.3C at Esperanza, beating the former record of 17.5C on March 2015, according to Argentina’s national meteorological service (SMN).
Randall Cerveny, the World Meteorological Organisation’s weather and climate extremes rapporteur, said:
Everything we have seen thus far indicates a likely legitimate record but we will of course begin a formal evaluation of the record once we have full data from SMN and on the meteorological conditions surrounding the event.
The record appears to be likely associated (in the short term) with what we call a regional ‘foehn’ event over the area: a rapid warming of air coming down a slope/mountain. Verification of this maximum temperature record is important because it helps us to build up a picture of the weather and climate in one of Earth’s final frontiers.
A WMO press release explained that ‘the record for the Antarctic region – that is, everywhere south of 60 degrees latitude – is 19.8C, taken on Signy Island in January 1982’.
Almost all of the Antarctic peninsula’s glaciers are melting, struggling under the heat of one of the fastest warming places on Earth (which has increased by almost 3C over the past 50 years, alarming scientists to the rapid rate of climate change).
Prof James Renwick, a climate scientist at Victoria University of Wellington, told The Guardian:
The reading is impressive as it’s only five years since the previous record was set and this is almost 1C higher. It’s a sign of the warming that has been happening there that’s much faster than the global average. To have a new record set that quickly is surprising but who knows how long that will last? Possibly not that long at all.
At roughly twice the size of Australia, the average annual temperature of the continent ranges from about −10C on the Antarctic coast to −60C at the highest parts of the interior.