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Climate Change Tracker: The South Pole heats up

The South Pole is heating at a greater rate than the world average, and this spells trouble for Antarctica

The South Pole is warming faster than the global average.
The South Pole is warming faster than the global average. (Getty Images)

Last week’s column talked about the record heatwave and wildfires sweeping through the Arctic Circle. This week, the focus turns to the final frontier of global heating, the frigid continent of Antarctica. It is considered to be largely exempt from the effects of climate change for now. Thankfully so, because if the Antarctic ice sheets start melting, all bets will be off.

According to the 2019 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report on the ocean and cryosphere, glaciers of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet were in retreat, driven by warm ocean waters. A new report this week in Nature Climate Change, titled Record Warming At The South Pole During The Past Three Decades, has far more worrying data. Between 1989-2018, the South Pole has seen a massive warming trend (records exist from 1957) of 1.8 degrees Celsius. It is heating up at a higher rate than the rest of the world. This is all the more alarming because the South Pole lies in the middle of the Antarctic plateau, which is the coldest place on Earth, with temperatures ranging from a high of -20 degrees Celsius to a low of -60 degrees Celsius.

Antarctica is 14.2 million sq. km in size, so warming obviously affects different parts of the continent in different ways. According to the authors of the report, local weather anomalies and the heat of the surrounding oceans play a part. However, based on climate model simulations which account for non-emission causes, the researchers have concluded that human-induced climate change has contributed 1 degree to the 1.8 degree rise. In effect, the extreme rise in temperatures would have been highly unlikely without the effects of anthropogenic global heating.

A separate report in March had described a heatwave on the continent earlier this year, with a maximum high of 9.2 degrees Celsius recorded on 24 January in the Windmill Islands. That’s 7 degrees higher than the 30-year mean for the region. It seems clear that global heating has reached Antarctica.

Follow the column with #MintClimateTracker. Scan the QR code to hear the latest episode of the Mint Climate Change Tracker.

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