Unprecedented heat waves hit the Arctic and Antarctica

Scientists have long warned that with climate change, extreme weather events are set to become more frequent, and this week’s heat waves at both ends of the planet are a case in point.

Antarctica and the Arctic have both experienced temperatures so high than normal that, according to an expert, they were previously considered impossible.

In January 2020, scientists at the Casey Research Station in East Antarctica recorded the continent’s first heat wave, with temperatures reaching 9.2°C.

In a new March record, as the continent heads into winter, temperatures peaked at 5.6C last week.

The Italian-French Concordia research station, located on the Antarctic plateau, recorded temperatures of -12.2 ° C, the highest in history, not only for the month of March, but for any month of the year, as Antarctic climatology researcher and journalist Stefano Di Battista has pointed out.


According to a group of researchers writing in The Conversation, this temperature is around 40°C above the March average. They attribute the extreme temperatures to an intense high pressure system that carried warm air and moisture into Antarctica, combined with an intense low pressure system to the east and a cloud layer that trapped the heat on the set.

Meanwhile, in the Arctic, which is emerging from winter, scientists have observed similar temperature extremes, with a high of 3.9C recorded at an Arctic Circle weather station, the highest for the month of March.


The Arctic’s warming trend has major implications for the region’s sea ice cover, and last year scientists warned of a growing threat to the ‘last patch of Arctic ice’. Some scientists have even warned that the Arctic is entering an entirely new climatic state.

And while it is difficult to directly attribute these specific weather events to climate change at this early stage, it is clear that they are part of a worrying trend. With both poles warming faster than the global average, scientists predict dire consequences if such heat waves become the norm.

Although these phenomena are “weather”, if climate change causes the polar regions to experience more such phenomena, it could have devastating effects, especially in the coastal regions of Antarctica, where the heat will be felt more, and in the ice shelves, where the melting would occur.

In the Arctic, impacts on sea ice and permafrost, and resulting climate feedbacks, are also notable. These are unusual events, but if they were to become regular occurrences, they would have a huge impact on both regions.

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