Antarctica Hits a New Record High Temperature

An worldwide team of experts has set a benchmark for global climate change by verifying the most extreme temperatures observed in Antarctica, says a New Zealand scientist who took part in the study.

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 19.8 C (67.6 F), which was observed on January 30, 1982 at Signy Research Station, Borge Bay on Signy Island.

The lowest temperature yet recorded by ground measurements for the Antarctic Region - and the whole world - was minus 89.2 C (minus 128.6 F) at Vostok station on 21 July, 1983.

The record was set on March 24, 2015, at the Argentine Research Base Esperanza, located near the northern tip of the Antarctic Peninsula.

Scientists defined yet another category - the high-elevation Antarctic Plateau - which set its own record high of 19.4 degrees on December 28, 1980, at an automated weather station.

Mapping Antarctica's extremes is essential for understanding weather patterns, and teasing out natural climate variability from human-induced climate change, the WMO said in a statement.

Usually, Antarctica is cold, windy and dry, the WMO said.

The temperature, more common in the Mediterranean than near the South Pole, is a significant departure from Antarctic averages, which range from -10C on the continent's coast to -60C in the interior. Its vast ice sheet is about 4.8 km (3 miles) thick and contains 90 percent of the world's fresh water, enough to raise sea levels by around 60 meters (200 feet) if it were all to melt.

The Antarctic Peninsula is among the most rapidly warming areas of the planet, with temperatures having increased by nearly 3C over the last 50 years. "It was my 10th consecutive fieldwork experience down there, and I've never seen so much surface meltwater - it was remarkable". Meltwater is fairly alarming, he said, because it can lead to the rapid retreat of coastal ice, as well as sea-level rise.

Another Antarctic expert, Eric Steig, said that "these temperatures are very likely associated with the extremely strong sea ice loss".

The new report may help scientists figure out what's behind these high temperatures.

  • Carolyn Briggs