We’ve seen the impacts of climate change and unusual warmth here in Central Texas… but we aren’t the only ones experiencing a shift in what is considered “normal”.
On Thursday, February 6th, the northern-most tip of Antarctica recorded its all-time warmest temperature on record, 18.3°C (~65°F). This beats the previous record of 17.5°C (63.5°F) set back on March 24th 2015. Records kept by Argentina’s National Weather Service date back to 1961 for the area.
Local terrain and regional winds tend to cause dramatic fluctuations in temperature in the area, but never have researchers recorded a temperature as warm as 18.3°C. On average, the continent reaches temperatures ranging from -10°C (14°F) in coastal areas to -60°C (-76°F) in interior regions.
It’s important to note that it’s not just this one temperature record that raises concerns about the changing climate… but the continued warming pattern. Researchers attribute the warming to melting ice on the continent.
IN DEPTH: Every surface has albedo, a quantity (0 to 1) used to describe the ability of that surface to reflect solar energy. The higher the albedo, the more the surface reflects the sun’s energy (which when absorbs, translates to heat). Lighter colors typically reflect more energy… while darker colored surfaces absorb more energy.
For example, snow has a high albedo (close to 1)… meaning it reflects most of the sun’s energy and does not absorb as much heat and stays cooler. On the contrary, a surface with a low albedo (like asphalt) reflects less, absorbing more energy/heat.
Applying this to the current state of Antarctica, warming global temperatures are resulting in increased snow/ice melt on the continent. Less snow/ice on the surface –> lower albedo –> higher absorption of energy –> further warming/melting. We call this a ‘positive feedback‘ mechanism.
Perhaps the most worrisome aspect of the record-breaking warmth is researchers’ prediction of the warming trend not slowing down.