Balmy Days: Antarctica Hits Record-High Temperature


It’s getting quite balmy in Antarctica, dubbed the “last place on Earth,” these days. An Argentine research base located near the tip of the Antarctic peninsula has logged record-high heat in the area at 63.5 degrees Fahrenheit, according to the World Meteorological Organization (WMO).

The U.N. weather bureau announced Wednesday that the Experanza base set the record high last March 24, 2015, after it reviewed data around Antarctica in order to set benchmarks for future warming, naturally occurring climate variability, as well as human-induced climate change.

Record Heat On The Last Frontier

In the cold, windy, dry Antarctic, the average annual temperature is from 14 degrees Fahrenheit to -76 degrees Fahrenheit.

Polar expert Michael Sparrow, working with the agency-sponsored World Climate Research Programme, said in a Reuters report that verifying temperature highs and lows enable them to “build up a picture of the weather and climate in one of Earth’s final frontiers.”

The record warm temperature for the larger Antarctic region, anywhere south of 60 degrees latitude, was 67.6 degrees Fahrenheit on South Atlantic’s Signy Island on Jan. 30, 1982. The warmest ever on the Antarctic plateau (at or above 8,200 feet), on the other hand, was 19.4 degrees Fahrenheit on Dec. 28, 1980.

On July 21, 1983, the lowest temperature ever observed on the planet was recorded at a Russian research station in central Antarctica, where the thermometer registered a whopping -128.6 degrees Fahrenheit.

However, it’s not just the lowest lows that keep Antarctic scientists busy and on their toes, especially in the face of climate change. A massive 90 percent of Earth’s freshwater, in the form of ice sheet that’s about 3 miles thick, is found in the continent. If all of it would melt, sea levels around the world will rise by around 200 feet.

Climate Context And Consequence

And as the record temperatures the WMO just announced are “the absolute limit” to what has been measured in Antarctica, the findings prove highly important.

"Comparing them to other places around the world and seeing how other places have changed in relation to Antarctica gives us a much better understanding of how climate interacts, and how changes in one part of the world can impact other places,” said Arizona State University professor Randy Cerveny, also the Rapporteur of Climate and Weather Extremes for WMO, in a statement.

The polar regions of Earth, Cerveny explained, are called the “canary” in the global environment, and given their sensitivity to climate change it’s often the north and south poles experiencing the first taste of global environmental changes.

The temperature extremes were achieved through different ways, including so-called foehn winds or very warm downslope winds that can quickly heat up a specific location. Even the United States have these winds, he added.

Antarctica recently made headlines as an iceberg the size of Delaware is set to break off from it, prompting fears of rising global sea levels. For years, scientists have been tracking a massive crack along the northernmost Antarctic ice shelf, which gradually grows bigger and bigger and has been discovered to have grown by almost 11 miles toward a dramatic break.

In 2002, the Larsen B ice shelf disintegrated after a similar event.

A Manhattan-sized iceberg also recently broke away from Pine Island Glacier.

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