Antarctica shock: Icy continent just underwent a staggering heatwave

Temperature records in the planet’s most southerly continent have tumbled this year, as each month’s highest temperature has been broken so far. January 24 saw a temperature of 9.2C – more than 7C above the monthly average which has been recorded for 30 years.

On February 6, a new February Antarctic maximum temperature of 18.4C was recorded at Argentina’s Esperanza research station on the Peninsula.

However, this record was eclipsed come February 9, a temperature of 20.75C was recorded at Seymour Island in western Antarctica.

It is the first time since records began that the 20C barrier has been broken, dwarfing the previous record of 19.8C, taken on Signy Island in January 1982.

And while the world focuses on a different pandemic, scientists warn it is important to remember what could destroy the planet in the long run.

Dana M Bergstrom, Principal Research Scientist, University of Wollongong; Andrew Klekociuk, Adjunct Senior Lecturer, University of Tasmania; Diana King, Research officer, University of Wollongong, and Sharon Robinson, Professor, University of Wollongong, wrote about the findings in a collective piece for The Conversation.

They wrote: “While the world rightfully focuses on the COVID-19 pandemic, the planet is still warming.

“This summer’s Antarctic weather, as elsewhere in the world, was unprecedented in the observed record.

“Some of our team spent the summer in Antarctica observing these temperatures and the effect on natural systems, witnessing the heatwave first-hand.

“Antarctica may be isolated from other continents by the Southern Ocean, but has worldwide impacts.

“It drives the global ocean conveyor belt, a constant system of deep-ocean circulation which transfers oceanic heat around the planet, and its melting ice sheet adds to global sea level rise.”

Since 1975, the world has been warming at an alarming rate, with scientists stating that the global temperature has risen by roughly 0.15-0.20C per decade.

While this figure seems relatively low, global warming is undoubtedly having an effect on the polar ice caps which continue to melt.

Since 1979, the volume of ice in the Arctic, or North Pole, has shrunk by an astonishing 80 percent – which scientists have warned will cause major sea level rises.

If just the West Antarctic Ice sheet, where the Pine Island Glacier is, were to completely melt, sea levels would rise by three metres.

Climate models have shown that a sea level rise of more than two metres could permanently submerge large parts of the British coastline with the likes of Hull, Peterborough, Portsmouth and parts of East London and the Thames Estuary all under threat.

The planet has already seen an increase of 1C compared to pre-industrial levels which will contribute massively to the melting of the ice caps and subsequent sea level rise.

As it stands, sea levels are rising at about 8mm a year due to melting ice, and while that does not seem like much, the implications for future generations could be huge.

Between 1993 and 2014, sea levels rose by 66mm – or roughly 3mm per year.

If it continues at the current rate, or gets faster, it could mean coastal cities such as New York could be submerged by the end of the century.

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