Record-setting heatwaves strike the Arctic and Antarctic
Scientists have long warned that with the climate continuing to change we can expect extreme weather events to increase in frequency, and freak heatwaves hitting either end of the planet this week serve as a pertinent example. Temperatures have been recorded in both the Antarctic and Arctic that are so far beyond the norm, that one expert says they would have previously been thought impossible.
In January of 2020, scientists at the Casey Research Station in East Antarctica recorded the continent's first heatwave, logging temperatures of 9.2 °C (48.6 °F). In a new record for the month of March as the continent heads into winter, air temperatures last week hit a maximum of 5.6 °C (42 °F). The Italian-French Concordia research station on the Antarctic Plateau recorded temperatures of -12.2 °C (10 °F), the highest ever not just for March but any month of the year, as noted by Antarctica climatology researcher and journalist Stefano Di Battista on Twitter.
It is impossible, we would have said until two days ago. From today (March 18) the Antarctic climatology has been rewritten— Stefano Di Battista (@pinturicchio_60) March 18, 2022
At Concordia the high recorded -12.2 °C and broken the absolute maximum set on 17 December 2016 (-13.7 °C)
At Vostok the provisional high is -20.3 °C 👇 pic.twitter.com/PYm48XdHLh
This is around 40 °C (72 °F) above the average for March, according to a group of researchers writing in The Conversation. They attribute the extreme temperatures to an intense high pressure system that carried warm air and moisture deep into Antarctica's interior, combined with an intense low pressure system in the east and cloud cover trapping heat over the plateau.
In the Arctic, meanwhile, which is coming out of winter, scientists have observed similar extreme temperatures with a maximum of 3.9 °C (39 °F) recorded at a weather station in the Arctic circle, the highest for the month of March.
The warming trend in the Arctic has significant impacts on sea ice coverage in the region, with scientists last year warning of the growing threat to the Arctic's "Last Ice Area." Some scientists have even warned that the Arctic is entering an entirely new climate state.
And while it's difficult to directly attribute these specific weather events to climate change at this early stage, they are clearly part of concerning trend. With both poles warming faster than the global average, scientists expect dire consequences if these types of heatwaves become the norm.
"While the events are ‘weather’, if under climate change the polar regions experience more events like this it could have devastating impacts, especially in coastal regions in Antarctica where the warmth will be felt the greatest, and on ice shelves where melting would occur," said Professor Martin Siegert, co-director of the Grantham Institute for Climate Change and the Environment, Imperial College London. "In the Arctic, the impacts on sea ice and permafrost, and the climate feedbacks that result are also worth noting. These are unusual events, but if they become regular occurrences they would impact both regions considerably.”
Source: The Conversation