At the South Pole, considered the coldest point on Earth, temperatures are rising rapidly.
So quickly, in fact, that Kyle Clem and other climate researchers began to worry and wonder if human-made climate change was playing a bigger role than expected in Antarctica.
Temperature data shows the desolate region has warmed to three times the rate of global warming in the past three decades until 2018, the hottest year in the South Pole ever, researchers say in a study published Monday in Nature Climate Change. Looking at data from 20 weather stations across Antarctica, the rate of warming of the South Pole was seven times higher than the overall average for the continent.
“The South Pole seemed to be isolated from what was going on in the rest of the world,” said Clem, who focused his research at Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand on a better understanding of the Antarctic climate. “But all of a sudden, it accelerates with rapid warming, one of the strongest warmings on the planet.”
Clem and his colleagues wanted to explain why the glacial continent began to warm quickly after a period of cooling in the 1970s and 1980s: was it natural variability? Or was it part of the larger trend of global warming caused by human industrial activity?
They found that the answer was both.
The warming of the South Pole is partly linked to the natural increase in temperatures in the western tropical Pacific, propelled south by cyclones in the icy waters of the Weddell Sea, off the Antarctic Peninsula.
But this scheme, supposed to be part of a multi-year natural process, only explained part of the warming trend. The rest, according to the researchers, were due to human-induced climate change.
“The end result is massive warming,” said Clem, while acknowledging that it is difficult to determine exactly how much each factor played a role. Temperature records of the South Pole dating back around 60 years, the region’s climate is poorly understood.
Scientists know that the weather systems in the Pacific can affect western Antarctica and the Antarctic Peninsula, where rising air and water temperatures are already melting the ice. Researchers are watching the continent closely as the loss of ice will raise sea levels around the world.
What happens closer to the Antarctic coast has more influence on this melting ice. But this “significant” new discovery that the southernmost point on the globe is also vulnerable to global warming was a surprise to Alexandra Isern, head of Antarctic studies for the US National Science Foundation.
“A region of the planet that we think was very isolated is not as isolated as we thought,” said Isern.
However, the South Pole is not yet in danger of fusion.
“These temperature changes are quite striking, but it’s still very cold,” said climatologist Julienne Stroeve, a professor in Manitoba, Canada, while working for the National Snow and Ice Data Center in Boulder, Colorado.
So far, the temperature changes have not been large enough “to translate into mass loss” in the ice inside Antarctica, she said.
Temperatures at the South Pole, which sits on an icy plateau 1.5 miles above sea level, generally range from minus 50 to minus 20 degrees Celsius (minus 58 to minus 4 degrees Fahrenheit). But the average temperature increased 1.8 degrees C for 30 years until 2018, the study found. Globally, temperatures have increased by about 0.5 to 0.6 degrees C during this period.
New research shows Antarctica is “waking up” to climate change, warned Stroeve. “To me, it’s alarming.”
(This story has not been edited by GalacticGaming staff and is automatically generated from a syndicated feed.)