On March 18 2022, one of the biggest performances on any stage ever on Planet Earth unfolded. And it wasn't at the Oscars and it wasn't an act. It was a little publicised, but very very big event in Antarctica. The events on the Antarctica stage are likely to have way more impact than the bruised faces, egos, and legal fallout from that other stage.
WHAT HAPPENED? ANTARCTICA RECORDED IT'S WARMEST DAY EVER. NOT JUST BY A FEW DEGREES, BUT BY A WHOPPING 40°C.
Antarctica's Concordia Research Station counted the temperature in at -11.8°C and while that might sound bloody cold, that temperature was 40°C higher than it should have been. For context, it would be as if the high temperature in Sydney this month - normally 25°C was an unthinkable 65°C. (While that may be a relativity stretch, you get the picture. Holy shit.) Concordia, where winter is approaching, has a normal high temperature for the day around -49°C.
The Concordia research station is one of the most inhospitable places on Earth. At 3,000m above sea level on the Antarctic Plateau, the temperature rarely rises above -25°C even in the summer. In midwinter it can fall to around -80°C.
The air is painfully dry, and fingers, toes and noses can freeze in minutes. The dozen or so crew, mainly French and Italian, who live and work in the station would normally venture out only for essential work. But on March 18th 2022, the air was so mild that the station’s research doctor went for a jog according to The Economist. (This pic below is not of the good doctor, but of Lars Henrik Smedsrud from the Norwegian Polar Institute, posed to give you the general idea of warm days and crazy scientists at the poles.)
It seems that no one is entirely sure as we simply don't have the records for comparison. The Guardian reports that Professor Andrew Mackintosh, Head of the School of Earth, Atmosphere and Environment at Monash University said:
“THIS WEATHER EVENT IS AN EXAMPLE OF ATMOSPHERIC WARMING ABOVE THE ICE SHELVES. IN ANTARCTICA, THE HEAT WOULD HAVE TO PERSIST FOR A FAIRLY LONG PERIOD OF TIME TO MAKE A SUBSTANTIAL DIFFERENCE.
THE MAIN CONCERN IS A WEAKENING OF ICE SHELVES, EXTENSIONS OF ICE SHEETS THAT FLOAT OVER THE OCEAN. THEY PLAY AN IMPORTANT ROLE IN RESTRAINING INLAND ICE. ONCE WE LOSE ICE SHELVES, GROUNDED ICE THAT SITS INLAND WOULD FLOW OUT FASTER … GO TO THE OCEAN AND CAUSE SEA LEVEL RISE"
The melting of ice create a vicious cycle as greater areas of water are exposed, we have increased absorption of the sun’s energy, which then causes more warming. Which in turn sees us lose more ice to the ocean and causes sea level rise.
An ice shelf in Antarctica nearly the size of Los Angeles disintegrated within days of extraordinary warmth on the continent.
Parts of eastern Antarctica have seen temperatures hover 70 degrees (40 Celsius) above normal for three days and counting and scientists concluded the event would have been virtually impossible without human-caused climate change.