For the first time on record, the Antarctic has registered a temperature of more than 20 degrees Celcius (68F), which has prompted the fears of climate instability in the world’s greatest repository of ice. Scientists, who collect the data from remote monitoring stations every three days, described the new record as “incredible and abnormal”. Though these records need to be confirmed by the World Meteorological Organization, but the trends seem to be consistent on the peninsula and nearby islands, which have warmed by almost 3 degrees Celcius since the pre-industrial era.
According to what Brazilian scientists at Seymour Island recorded, the temperature in the Antarctic was 20.75 degrees Celcius as on February 9, which was almost a full degree higher than the previous record of 19.8 degrees Celcius, taken on Signy Island in January 1982. It follows another recent temperature record of 18.3 degrees Celcius, at Esperanza on February 6, which was the highest reading on the continental Antarctic peninsula.
Scientists on the Brazilian antarctic programme say this appears to be influenced by shifts in ocean currents and El Niño events:
“We have climatic changes in the atmosphere, which is closely related to changes in permafrost and the ocean. The whole thing is very interrelated.”
“We are seeing the warming trend in many of the sites we are monitoring, but we have never seen anything like this,” said Carlos Schaefer, who works on Terrantar, a Brazilian government project that monitors the impact of climate change on permafrost and biology at 23 sites in the Antarctic.
Schaefer said the temperature of the peninsula, the South Shetland Islands and the James Ross archipelago, which Seymour is part of, has been erratic over the past 20 years. After cooling in the first decade of this century, it has warmed rapidly.
While temperatures in eastern and central Antarctica are relatively stable, there are growing concerns about west Antarctica, where warming oceans are undermining the huge Thwaites and Pine Island glaciers. Until now, this has led to a relatively low amount of sea-level rise, but this could change rapidly if there is a sustained jump in temperature.
Antarctica, on average, is the coldest, driest, and windiest continent, and has the highest average elevation of all the continents. Most of Antarctica is a polar desert, with annual precipitation of 200 mm (7.9 in) along the coast and far less inland; there has been no rain there for almost 2 million years, yet 80 per cent of the world freshwater reserves are stored there.
The temperature in Antarctica has reached −89.2 degrees Celcius (−128.6 °F), or even −94.7 degrees Celcius (−135.8 °F) as measured from space), though the average for the third quarter (the coldest part of the year) is −63 degrees Celcius (−81 °F).
Anywhere from 1,000 to 5,000 people reside throughout the year at research stations scattered across the continent. Organisms native to Antarctica include many types of algae, bacteria, fungi, plants, protista, and certain animals, such as mites, nematodes, penguins, seals and tardigrades. Vegetation, where it occurs, is tundra.