Polar Ice Collapsing Under “Unprecedented” Heatwave

September 11th, 2023 - by IANS / Weather.com

Antarctica’s 2022 Climate Extremes:
Latest Report
Reveals Record-Breaking Heatwaves
IANS / Weather.com

(September 19, 2023) — Antarctica, Earth’s coldest and driest continent, witnessed an unprecedented heatwave and extreme precipitation in 2022, according to recent research led by an individual of Indian origin.

In the 33rd annual State of the Climate report, an international assessment of global climate conditions published in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, researchers highlighted another year characterised by extreme weather events linked to climate change in 2022. These events ranged from intense storms to soaring temperatures and rising sea levels, affecting Antarctica as well.

Rajashree Tri Datta, a research associate in the Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences at the University of Colorado-Boulder, expressed her hope that the public would begin to recognise the fragility and complexity of polar regions. Although Antarctica may appear isolated, changes in this icy continent can have significant global implications.

Datta pointed out, “Most of the planet’s freshwater is stored in Antarctica’s ice sheet. What occurs there has far-reaching consequences for coastlines worldwide, influencing aspects from agriculture to migration patterns.”

In recent years, scientists have observed rapid sea ice decline and increased warming in Antarctica. Regions like the West Antarctic Ice Sheet have shown signs of substantial ice loss, contributing to rising sea levels.

Datta and her team revealed that, for six days in March, a substantial area of East Antarctica witnessed temperatures exceeding 18 degrees Fahrenheit (10°C) above the historical March average from 1991 to 2020.

On March 16, 2022, a weather station in the interior of East Antarctica recorded a record-breaking temperature of 14.7°F (-9.6°C), which was more than 79°F (44°C) higher than the typical March temperature at that location.

Typically, March signifies the transition from summer to winter in Antarctica, with temperatures dropping rapidly. Following the heatwave, the Conger Ice Shelf, a floating ice tongue roughly the size of Rome, collapsed in East Antarctica. Over the years, this ice shelf had become increasingly vulnerable.

The collapse of floating ice shelves often accelerates the loss of upstream glaciers, resulting in ice loss and rising sea levels. As people worldwide experienced more frequent and intense heatwaves in 2022, Datta noted that the team’s research provides an opportunity to engage with the public about climate change in Antarctica in a way that resonates with them.

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