English    中文

A heatwave in Antarctica totally blew the minds of scientists

2024-01-30  |   Editor : houxue2018  
Category : News


Climate scientists don’t like surprises. It means our deep understanding of how the climate works isn’t quite as complete as we need. But unfortunately, as climate change worsens, surprises and unprecedented events keep happening. In March 2022, Antarctica experienced an extraordinary heatwave. Large swathes of East Antarctica experienced temperatures up to 40°C (104°F) above normal, shattering temperature records. It was the most intense heatwave ever recorded anywhere in the world. So shocking and rare was the event, it blew the minds of the Antarctic climate science community. A major global research project was launched to unravel the reasons behind it and the damage it caused. The results are alarming. But they provide scientists a deeper understanding of the links between the tropics and Antarctica – and give the global community a chance to prepare for what a warmer world may bring.


Head-hurting complexity

The papers tell a complex story that began half a world away from Antarctica. Under La Niña conditions, tropical heat near Indonesia poured into the skies above the Indian Ocean. At the same time, repeated weather troughs pulsing eastwards were generating from southern Africa. These factors combined into a late, Indian Ocean tropical cyclone season.

Between late February and late March 2022, 12 tropical storms had brewed. Five storms revved up to become tropical cyclones, and heat and moisture from some of these cyclones mashed together. A meandering jet stream picked up this air and swiftly transported it vast distances across the planet to Antarctica.

Luck was on Antarctica’s side

The event caused the vulnerable Conger Ice Shelf to finally collapse. But the impacts were otherwise not as bad as they could have been. That’s because the heatwave struck in March, the month when Antarctica transitions to its dark, extremely cold winter. If a future heatwave arrives in summer – which is more likely under climate change – the results could be catastrophic.

Despite the heatwave, most inland temperatures stayed below zero. The spike included a new all-time temperature high of -9.4°C (15.1°F) on March 18 near Antarctica’s Concordia Research Station. To understand the immensity of this, consider that the previous March maximum temperature at this location was -27.6°C (-17.68°F). At the heatwave’s peak, 3.3 million square kilometres in East Antarctica – an area about the size of India – was affected by the heatwave.

The impacts included widespread rain and surface melt along coastal areas. But inland, the tropical moisture fell as snow – lots and lots of snow. Interestingly, the weight of the snow offset ice loss in Antarctica for the year. This delivered a temporary reprieve from Antarctica’s contribution to global sea-level rise.

Learning from the results

This research calculated that such temperature anomalies occur in Antarctica about once a century, but concluded that under climate change, they will occur more frequently.

The findings enable the global community to improve its planning for various scenarios. For example, if a heatwave of similar magnitude hit in summer, how much ice melt would there be? If an atmospheric river hit the Doomsday glacier in the West Antarctic, what rate of sea level rise would that trigger? And how can governments across the world prepare coastal communities for sea level rise greater than currently calculated?

This research contributes another piece to the complex jigsaw puzzle of climate change. And reminds us all, that delays to action on climate change will raise the price we pay.



Provided by the IKCEST Disaster Risk Reduction Knowledge Service System

    Sign in for comments!

Comment list ( 0 )


Most concern
Recent articles