Gloomy news from Antarctica as scientists announced on Tuesday they have measured a record breaking high temperature on the continent – 17.5 degrees Celsius (or 63.5 degrees Fahrenheit).
The temperature was measured in the northernmost extremity of the Antarctic Peninsula, at the Argentinian Esperanza Base, and the announcement was first published on the meteorological website Weather Underground. It is the highest registered value in almost fifty years of weather monitoring in Antarctica.
According to available data, the highest temperature ever recorded before was 17.1°C (62.8°F), measured at the same location on April 24, 1961. Earlier this week, researchers expressed concerned when they discovered another record value of 63.3°F at the Marambio Base, set on an island just outside Antarctica mainland, and their fears were confirmed on Tuesday, when they finished measuring the air temperature on the continent itself.
The website labeled this week’s discoveries as part of the “remarkable heat wave” that usually hits Antarctica at the end of the austral summer. The results, however, have not yet been made official by the World Meteorological Organization.
According to some of the international bodies overseeing weather changes in Antarctica, Argentina’s Esperanza Base is not technically part of the continent, so the results the scientists there came with may not enter official records. Christopher Burt, a weather historian, argues there are currently four accepted ways to define Antarctica, and none of them counts the Esperanza Base as relevant for weather concerns.
The World Meteorological Organization will have the final saying on the matter, as the world’s supreme weather body does have the authority to validate the result anyway. But the WMO will have to compare it to some other recent results that suggest the contrary.
For instance, according to Gavin Schmidt, a NASA climate scientist, only last year Antarctica smashed another record, this time for the lowest temperature ever recorded on the continent. He and those who think like him argue that a single measurement of a record high is not relevant enough to come to a conclusion.
One thing all scientists seem to agree upon is that the ocean water surrounding Antarctica has been warming constantly in the past decades, therefore causing glaciers found on the edges of the continent to start melting. Another British study made recently estimates the temperature in the Antarctic Peninsula region increased by 2.8 °C compared to half a century ago. The British Antarctic Survey warns that the area is “the most rapidly warming region in the Southern Hemisphere – comparable to rapidly warming regions of the Arctic.”
However, the image for the entire continent is a little more complex. Researchers took a glance further inland on Antarctica and found out that some of the glaciers located there are actually growing in size. They have yet to conclude if this phenomenon is in any way related to the melting of the glaciers that come in contact with the warm ocean water.
“That has not been satisfactorily explained,” NASA’s Schmidt wrote. “One record warm temperature doesn’t cut through all that complexity.”
Image Source: American Geophysical Union