Antarctica: what it means when the coldest place on Earth records an unprecedented heatwave
The Guardian 30 Mar 2020
Dana M Bergstrom, Andrew Klekociuk, Diana King and Sharon Robinson for the Conversation
While the world rightfully focuses on the Covid-19 pandemic, the planet is still warming. This summer’s Antarctic weather, as elsewhere in the world, was unprecedented in the observed record.
Our research, published today in Global Change Biology, describes the recent heatwave in Antarctica. Beginning in late spring east of the Antarctic Peninsula, it circumnavigated the continent over the next four months. Some of our team spent the summer in Antarctica observing these temperatures and the effect on natural systems, witnessing the heatwave first hand.
Antarctica may be isolated from the rest of the continents by the Southern Ocean, but has worldwide impacts. It drives the global ocean conveyor belt, a constant system of deep-ocean circulation which transfers oceanic heat around the planet, and its melting ice sheet adds to global sea level rise.
Antarctica represents the simple, extreme end of conditions for life. It can be seen as a “canary in the mine”, demonstrating patterns of change we can expect to see elsewhere.
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