Record-Breaking Heatwaves Simultaneously Hit Antarctica and the Arctic; Conger Ice Shelf Collapses

Both of Earth’s polar regions experienced extreme heat this week, with parts of Antarctica rising more than 40°C above average; and regions of the Arctic reaching 30°C above. Such high temperatures in Antarctica and the Arctic are consistent with model projections of extreme temperature events under continued carbon dioxide emissions and global warming. Warm air and moisture sweeping unusually far into the center of the Antarctic Ice Sheet elevated temperatures around numerous Antarctic research stations (including Concordia and Vostok) to an all-time high. Similar extreme weather patterns occurring in the Arctic funnelled hot air directly into the Arctic circle. Last week, the Svalbard archipelago in Norway recorded a new maximum temperature for March of 3.9°C. At the coastal Terra Nova base in Antarctica, temperatures recently reached +7°C, far above freezing; and heavy rains fell far inland, in some cases for several days.

These unusually high temperatures in coastal regions jeopardize the stability of Antarctica’s ice shelves, which hold back ice sheet melt and related sea-level rise. Recent projections show that these ice shelves will likely disappear under continued global temperature rise; and on March 25, scientists using NASA and Copernicus satellite images confirmed that the 1200 square kilometer Conger Ice Shelf had apparently collapsed. Unusual calving events also took place at the Glenzer ice shelf, as well as from the massive Totten glacier. The unprecedented nature of this extreme warming simultaneously occurring time at both poles emphasizes the importance of curbing anthropogenic emissions to limit future temperature rise and ice sheet loss. Antarctica’s ice holds about 58 meters of sea-level rise.