Just how bad is the situation in Antarctica right now? ScienceAlert has reported that Antarctica is in dire straights, with a massive rift in the Larsen ice shelf gaining 10 km (6.2 miles) in 2017 alone, and a vast, 2-km-wide (1.2-mile) crater showing that our planet’s southernmost landmass isn’t as stable as we once thought.

Now, the World Meteorological Organisation has come out saying that we’ve reached “record-high temperatures” for Antarctica. This is more than a little unsettling. The coldest continent on Earth has hit a positively warm 19.8°C (67.6°F).

“The temperatures we announced today are the absolute limit to what we have measured in Antarctica,” says Randy Cerveny from Arizona State University and the WMO.

“Comparing them to other places around the world and seeing how other places have changed in relation to Antarctica gives us a much better understanding of how climate interacts, and how changes in one part of the world can impact other places.”

There is one bit of good news in these reports. The record-high temperature of 19.8°C didn’t happen in the past few years as you might expect. The WMO reports that the highest temperature in recorded history for the Antarctic Region – defined as all land and ice south of 60°S – was observed on 30 January 1982 at Signy Research Station.

But the highest temperature for the Antarctic continent – when defined as the main continental landmass and nearby islands – happened only recently in the norther tip of the Antarctic Peninsula.

This is the northwest tip near South America, and according to the World Meteorological Organisation is now one the fastest warming regions of the planet, gaining almost 3°C over the last 50 years.

The lowest temperature ever recorded for the Antarctic Region – and for the whole world – has been verified at -89.2°C (-128.6°F), and was taken at Vostok station at the southern Pole of Cold on 21 July 1983.

These temperature recordings are the result of many years of research by the WMO’s team of climatologists and meteorologists. The WMO’s new benchmarks reveal how dire the situation is becoming.

Now that we’ve seen these results coming in for Antarctica, the WMO is warning us that this is probably happening in other regions around the world.

“The polar regions of our planet have been termed the ‘canary’ in our global environment. Because of their sensitivity to climate changes, sometimes the first influences of changes in our global environment can be seen in the north and south polar regions,” Cerveny says in a press statement. 

“Knowledge of the weather extremes in these locations therefore becomes particularly important to the entire world. The more we know of this critically important area to our environment, the more we can understand how all of our global environments are interlinked.”

Further resources

More details of the WMO’s findings have been reported by Eos Earth and Space Science News from the American Geophysical Union.

You can also connect with Dr. Tia Kansara, the expert on sustainability on Ideapod. Just create an idea and include @tiakansara in the description, and Dr. Kansara will be there to respond.

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