The coldest place on Earth just got warmer than has ever been recorded.
According to the weather blog Weather Underground, on Tuesday, March 24, the temperature in Antarctica rose to 63.5°F (17.5C) — a record for the polar continent. Part of a longer heat wave, the record high came just a day after the previous record was set at 63.3°F.
Tuesday’s temperature was taken at the Argentina’s Esperanza Base, located near the northern tip of the Antarctic Peninsula. The Monday record was from Marambio Base, about 60 miles southeast of Esperanza. Both are records for the locations, however the World Meteorological Organization is yet to certify that the temperatures are all-time weather records for Antarctica. Before these two chart-toppers, the highest recorded temperature from these outposts was 62.8°F in 1961.
Setting a new all-time temperature record for an entire continent is rare and requires the synthesizing of a lot of data. As Weather Underground’s weather historian, Christopher C. Burt, explains, there is debate over what exactly is included in the continent Antarctica, and by the narrowest interpretation, which would include only sites south of the Antarctic Circle, Esperanza would not be part of the continent.
According to the WMO, the official keeper of global temperature records, the all-time high temperature for Antarctica was 59°F in 1974. As Mashable reports, the verification process for these new records could take months as the readings must be checked for accuracy.
Even in their unofficial capacity, the readings are stunning.
As Burt reports, these temperature records occurred nearly three months past the warmest time of year in the Antarctic Peninsula, December, when the average high is 37.8°F. The average high for March is 31.3°F, making this week’s records more than 30°F above average. Burt also points out that temperature records for Esperanza have previously occurred in October and April, so these spikes are not unheard of.
They should also not be unexpected: the poles are warming faster than any part of the planet and rapid ice melt is being observed at increased rates in Antarctica. According to a new study, ice shelves in West Antarctica have lost as much as 18 percent of their volume over the last two decades, with rapid acceleration occurring over the last decade. The study found that from 1994 to 2003, the overall loss of ice shelf volume across the continent was negligible, but over the last decade West Antarctic losses increased by 70 percent.
According to the British Antarctic Survey, since records for the Antarctic Peninsula began half a century ago, the average temperature has risen about 5°F, making it “the most rapidly warming region in the Southern Hemisphere – comparable to rapidly warming regions of the Arctic.”
While the polar regions are feeling the most severe temperature changes brought on by the rise in greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere, areas across the globe are setting record highs at a much faster rate than record lows. Since 2010, 46 nations or territories out of 235 have set or tied record highs. Only four have set record lows. According to the Weather Underground, so far this year, five nations or territories have tied or set all-time records for their highest temperature: Antarctica, Equatorial Guinea, Ghana, Wallis and Futuna Territory, and Samoa.