Antarctica has been referred to as the “last place on Earth.” It has recently been in the news because of a gigantic rift in the Antarctic Peninsulas’s Larsen C ice shelf. Some scientists have suggested that if part of the shelf breaks off, it could be an iceberg the size of the state of Delaware. The Larsen B ice shelf did something similar in 2002. While such calving processes are often naturally-occurring, climatologists are also watching the region for signs of climate change.
Antarctica is often misunderstood, and you commonly see people mischaracterize ice gains and losses in Antarctica compared to the Arctic. It is typically a region known for being cold. The South Pole’s annual mean temperature is -76F (-60C) in winter and -18 (-28.2C) in summer according to data at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute. In a previous Forbes discussion, I explained why the polar regions are so cold. However, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) announced today new verified record high-temperatures for the region, and they may surprise you.
WMO announced in a press release,
The highest temperature for the “Antarctic region” (defined by the WMO and the United Nations as all land and ice south of 60-deg S) of 67.6 F (19.8 C) , which was observed on Jan. 30, 1982 at Signy Research Station, Borge Bay on Signy Island. The highest temperature for the Antarctic Continent, defined as the main continental landmass and adjoining islands, is the temperature extreme of 63.5 F (17.5 C) recorded on Mar. 24, 2015 at the Argentine Research Base Esperanza located near the northern tip of the Antarctic Peninsula. The highest temperature for the Antarctic Plateau (at or above 2,500 meters, or 8,200 feet) was 19.4 F (-7 C) made on Dec. 28, 1989 at an automatic weather station site D-80 located inland of the Adelie Coast.
These records are quite impressive when you consider that average yearly temperature ranges from about about 14 F on the coasts to -76 F at the highest points in the interior. The ice sheet contains about 90% of the planet’s freshwater supply and is about 3 miles thick in places. While unlikely to happen, if the entire ice sheet melted it would raise sea levels by around 200 feet (60 meters) according to the WMO.