Antarctica Hits Record-High Temperature, Climate Scientist Warns It May Go Higher Amid Rapid Warming

Antarctica set a new record temperature on Thursday when thermometers at Base Esperanza hit 18.3 C—beating the previous record by almost a whole degree centigrade.

Argentina's national weather service, Servicio Meteorológico Nacional (SMN), clocked the warmest temperature recorded for Antarctica since monitoring began in 1961.

The moment was registered at the country's year-round research station in Hope Bay, Trinity Peninsula, on Antarctica's northernmost tip. Until yesterday, the highest temperature recorded in the area—and the entire Antarctic continent—was 17.5 C, which was reported on March 24, 2015, also at Base Esperanza.

#Antártida | Nuevo récord de temperaturas 🌡️

Este mediodía la Base #Esperanza registró un nuevo récord histórico (desde 1961) de temperatura, con 18,3°C. Con este valor se supera el récord anterior de 17,5°C del 24 en marzo de 2015. Y no fue el único récord...

— SMN Argentina (@SMN_Argentina) February 6, 2020

And that was not the only record broken yesterday. SMN also announced records at Base Marambio, a year-round station roughly 62 miles from Base Esperanza. Temperatures beat the previous high temperature of 13.8 C—which was reported on February 24, 2013—topping 14.1 C.

La Base #Marambio también registró la temperatura más alta para un de mes de febrero desde 1971. Alcanzó 14,1°C y superó los 13,8°C del 24 de febrero de 2013.

— SMN Argentina (@SMN_Argentina) February 6, 2020

To put this into perspective, Time and Date cites the average high temperature for February at 4 C (Base Esperanza) and 1 C (Base Marambio).

John King, Senior Atmospheric Scientist at the British Antarctic Survey, told Newsweek he was "a bit surprised" to see the 2015 record broken so quickly. He added: "This is a region of the Antarctic where we do expect to see unusually high temperatures from time to time."

This variation is caused by warm winds from mountains near to the west of the stations. According to King, these can cause temperatures to rise more than 10 C over a few hours—and could be contributing to these unusually high readings, as they did in March 2015.

"On their own they are not significant, but as part of a pattern of recent change in the Antarctic they are a cause for concern," he said.

"It is the most rapidly warming part of the Antarctic, so I wouldn't be surprised to see this record broken again within the next few years."

According to the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), average annual temperatures in Antarctica range between −10 C (on the coast) and −60 C (in the interior). However, the Antarctic Peninsula—located in Antarctica's northwest, nearest to South America—is warming faster than almost all areas on the planet, with temperatures in the area increasing roughly 3 C in half a century. This temperature rise has been linked to increased melting of ice on the continent, which in turn causes sea-level rise.

The latest temperature record to break follows one of the warmest years on record. 2019 did not quite beat the current record holder, 2016, but came nail-bitingly close—last year's global average temperatures were 0.6 C above the 1981-2010 average and 0.04 C lower than 2016, according to Copernicus Climate Change Service (C3S). It closed the hottest ten-year period in recorded history, with temperatures now an estimated 1.1 C higher than the pre-industrial period, according to the WMO.

Things do not appear to be slowing down as we enter a new decade. Last month was the warmest January on record—and 0.03 C warmer than January 2016, according to C3S.

The anomalous weather was particularly evident in Europe, which saw average temperatures of 3.1°C above the 1981-2010 norm. This was particularly evident in countries like Norway, which experienced average temperatures more than 6 C above that norm.

Vast swathes of the US and eastern Canada, East Asia, Australia and Antarctica also experienced unusually balmy weather. Globally, temperatures were 0.77 C higher than the 1981-2010 norm. According to C3S, February and March 2016 are the only two months that exceed it in terms of anomalous warmth.

"A single record temperature doesn't tell us much," said King. "However, if we see a pattern of increasingly frequent records being broken then that tells us that things are changing."

Base Esperanza
Antarctica broke a new record temperature on Thursday when thermometers at Base Esperanza (pictured) hit 18.3 °C. VANDERLEI ALMEIDA/AFP/Getty