The Earth’s poles are experiencing simultaneous extreme heat with parts of Antarctica more than 70 degrees (40 degrees Celsius) warmer than average and areas of the Arctic more than 50 degrees (30 degrees Celsius) warmer than the average.
Antarctic weather stations broke records on Friday as the region approached autumn. Concordia Station, two miles (3,234 meters) high, was at 10 degrees (-12.2 degrees Celsius), about 70 degrees above average, while the even higher Vostok station reached a shadow at the above 0 degrees (-17.7 degrees Celsius), breaking its all-time high by around 27 degrees (15 degrees Celsius), according to a tweet from extreme weather record tracker Maximiliano Herrera.
The Terra Nova shore base was well above freezing at 44.6 degrees (7 degrees Celsius).
This surprised officials at the National Snow and Ice Data Center in Boulder, Colorado, as they were paying attention to the Arctic where it was 50 degrees warmer than average and where areas around the North Pole were approaching or reaching the point of melting, which is really unusual for mid-March, said ice center scientist Walt Meier.
“These are opposite seasons. You don’t see north and south (poles) melting at the same time,” Meier told The Associated Press Friday night. “It’s definitely an unusual occurrence.”
“It’s pretty amazing,” Meier added.
“Wow. I’ve never seen anything like this in Antarctica,” said University of Colorado ice scientist Ted Scambos, who recently returned from an expedition to the continent.
“It’s not a good sign when you see this stuff happening,” said University of Wisconsin meteorologist Matthew Lazzara.
Lazzara is monitoring temperatures at East Antarctica’s Dome C-ii and recorded 14 degrees (-10 degrees Celsius) on Friday, where normal is -45 degrees (-43 degrees Celsius): “It’s a temperature you should see in January, not March. January is summer there. It’s dramatic.
Lazzara and Meier said what happened in Antarctica is likely just a random weather event and not a sign of climate change. But if it happens again or repeats, it could be cause for concern and part of global warming, they said.
The Antarctic heat wave was first reported by The Washington Post.
The Antarctic continent as a whole was about 8.6 degrees (4.8 degrees Celsius) warmer on Friday than a benchmark temperature between 1979 and 2000, according to the University of Maine’s Climate Reanalyzer, based on models United States National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration. This warming of 8 degrees from an already warmed average is unusual, think of it as if the whole of the United States was 8 degrees warmer than normal, Meier said.
Meanwhile, on Friday, the Arctic as a whole was 6 degrees (3.3 degrees) warmer than the 1979 to 2000 average.
In comparison, the world as a whole was only 1.1 degrees (0.6 degrees Celsius) above the 1979 to 2000 average. Globally, the 1979 to 2000 average is about half a degree (0.3 degrees Celsius) warmer than the 20th century average.
What makes Antarctica’s warming really strange is that the southern continent – except for its vulnerable peninsula which is rapidly warming and rapidly losing ice – hasn’t warmed much, especially compared to the rest of the globe, Meier said.
Antarctica set a record for the lowest summer sea ice – records date back to 1979 – with a reduction to 741,000 square miles (1.9 million square kilometers) in late February, the data center reported on snow and ice.
What likely happened was “a large atmospheric river” being pumped south in hot, humid Pacific air, Meier said.
And in the Arctic, which has warmed two to three times faster than the rest of the globe and is considered vulnerable to climate change, warm air from the Atlantic was coming north off the coast of Greenland.