Antarctica suffers unprecedented heat wave

Antarctica has experienced the warmest temperatures on record for this period of the year. Many experts worry the precipitation and subsequent rise in temperatures that occurred may accelerate the melting of ice shelves and glaciers, putting the continent’s biodiversity at risk. They also call for close monitoring and more data collection to gain more insights into the phenomenon.

Certain Antarctica research stations have recorded temperatures up to 40°C higher than normal for the period over the past weeks. The extreme conditions were caused by a narrow corridor of water vapor in the sky above the continent’s eastern coast.

A heat dome then enveloped the same area, trapping heat and moisture. This created a phenomenon called downward long-wave radiation, as liquid-rich clouds radiated heat toward the ground.

Raúl Cordero, an expert at the public Chilean Antarctic Institute (INACH), said in a statement that similar extreme temperature events used to be abnormal but may become normal.

Read more:

Antarctic Ice Melt could reach critical levels by 2060

Biodiversity at risk

The effects of liquid precipitations could potentially cause the collapse of coastal ice shelves and be disastrous to local flora and fauna. Many species wouldn’t have the time to adapt to such drastic climate effects and could be at risk. Temperatures in Antarctica have also been rising at a more rapid rate than in most other regions of the hemisphere, which, combined with rising sea levels, could render the region and its biodiversity particularly vulnerable.

The latest edition of the Chilean Antarctic Bulletin mentions that “current long-term heat waves can lead to persistent meltwater pools, which in turn have been shown to be the main mechanisms of ice shelf collapse.” Ice shelves have a reinforcing effect on the ice sheet and glaciers, so these occurrences could be an important problem for the conservation of ancient glaciers.

Close monitoring

Experts warn that close monitoring is needed since the situation could have repercussions for the entire planet. According to the authors of the Antarctic Bulletin, “regional differences in Antarctica underscore the need for a network of weather stations to help track temperature anomalies and heat waves on a regional scale.” The recent installation of four monitoring stations on Chilean Antarctic territory will help provide important data for decision making.

Temperatures and meteorological phenomenons can vary drastically in Antarctica, with the South Pole having recorded the lowest average temperatures since measures began between April and September 2021. But shortly after, sea ice surrounding the continent shrank to the smallest volume on record.

Many experts worry climate change will exacerbate these phenomena and threaten to disrupt the world’s climatic balance.


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