Heatwaves melt the coldest place on the planet

Record Antarctic temperatures have risen 40ºC above normal for this time of year.
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Extraordinary heatwave sees thermometers shoot sky-high in the Antarctic

The Antarctic has recorded temperatures 40ºC above average, exceeding by 20ºC the previous maximum, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) has warned. The data has prompted questions and concerns about the possible role of climate change in the coldest and driest region of the world.

The thermometer at Concordia, the French-Italian research station situated over 3,000 meters above sea level on the Antarctic Plateau, normally records around -55ºC at this time of year. On 18 March, however, during a heatwave, the mercury touched -12ºC.


“The coldest place on Earth recorded a temperature 40 ºC above average”


Since records began, the Antarctic is one of the regions where the temperature has increased most – with a rise of almost 3°C over the past 50 years. The average rise worldwide is around 1.1ºC – and the effects are there for all to see.

The most remarkable, in the recent heatwave the region experienced, was the collapse of a 1,100 km2 ice shelf the size of Rome.

The day before, weather stations had recorded rainfall and temperatures well above 0°CIt’s unusual to see rain in the Antarctic, but, when it does occur, the consequences are usually deadly serious for ecosystems, especially penguin colonies, and the equilibrium of the ice cap.

Another worry is that this happened just months after the ice in the Antarctic Ocean had shrunk to its minimum following the Summer melting, falling below two million square kilometers (772,000 square miles) for the first time since satellite records began in 1979.


What was the cause of this unprecedented temperature rise in the Antarctic?

Experts say the cause was an atmospheric river, a climatological phenomenon that drives water vapor from the warm oceans and concentrates humidity in the atmosphere in great quantities.

This humidity holds heat over the ice caps provoking the serious consequences that occurred in March, both the melting of these areas and the breaking off of large chunks of ice from the continent.

For the experts, this event was linked to climate change. Global warming is making events like this more probable, and as more and more ice shelves collapse around the Antarctic, the loss of ice will increase and, with it, global sea levels will rise, according to the online review The Conversation.


The consequences of the Antarctic temperature rise lead to effects across the world

Melting causes changes in the marine ecosystem, and oceans and extreme weather phenomena. The high record temperatures, rainfall and collapse of the ice shelf in the eastern Antarctic has sounded the alarm over the consequences of climate change in the coldest and driest region of the planet.

As a result of the melting of the ice caps and glaciers, the rate of increase of the sea level worldwide has accelerated since the beginning of satellite altimeter measurements in 1993, reaching a record in 2021, according to the WMO report on the State of Climate in 2021.

If the temperature in the Antarctic continues to rise, the effects will be devastating. The ice cap in this region has a thickness of up to 4.8km and contains 90% of the world’s freshwater, enough to raise the sea level by some 60 meters if it melted completely.


“If the Antarctic ice cap melted, the sea level would increase by some 60 meters”


Can we stop this phenomenon?

The scientific community and the experts do not tire of repeating it: to stop the melting of the poles, it is necessary to mitigate climate change and limit the rise in temperature to that stipulated in the Paris Agreement (+1.5ºC).

But this target is already impossible to reach. If organizations and countries do not become more ambitious in their climate commitments, the planet will continue to warm by at least 2.7°C, UNEP warns. Indeed, a new study by the Met Office and the WMO calculates that there is a 50% probability the temperature rise of the planet will surpass the safety margin of 1.5ºC within the next five years.

We already know how to achieve the target: neutrality in carbon and the end of greenhouse gas emissions from the burning of fossil fuels. The IPCC is clear in its latest report: the moment to act is now. Emissions must peak before 2025 at the latest - and we need to reduce them by 43% by 2030.

Limiting the temperature rise in the Antarctic can only be achieved if we halt global warming across the planet.