The temperature on an Antarctic peninsula reportedly rose above 20 degrees Celsius for the first time in recorded history last Sunday, stoking scientists’ fears about crucial sea ice melting from the effects of climate change.
Brazillian scientists say they recorded a maximum temperature of 20.75 C on Seymour Island on Feb. 9. That reading was nearly one full degree higher than the long-standing Antarctic record of 19.8 C, which was registered on Signy Island in January 1982.
The news sparked concern on social media, particularly after it was shared by teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg.
The new temperature was recorded by scientists with the Brazillian government-funded Terrantar project, The Guardian reports. The World Meteorological Association (WMA) has not yet confirmed the reading, although the potential high comes amid an already record-breaking summer season at the southern pole.
Argentinian scientists recorded a new record-high Antarctic temperature of 18.3 C on Feb. 6, prompting alarm from the WMA.
Chile also released footage earlier this week of a typically ice-covered stretch of Antarctica, where sky-high daily temperatures have melted nearly all of the snow.
“We are seeing the warming trend in many of the sites we are monitoring, but we have never seen anything like this,” Terrantar scientist Carlos Schaefer told The Guardian on Thursday. He and his team monitor the impact of climate change across 23 sites in the Antarctic.
The Terrantar team says they recorded the temperature at Marambio base, on Seymour Island at the tip of the Antarctic peninsula.
Schaefer says his team’s work is crucial because it can help “anticipate the developments that will happen in the future — the near future.”
He added that the region has seen dramatic changes in the climate due to shifts in the ocean current and El Nino events.
“The whole thing is very interrelated,” he said.
Human-caused climate change has met the gold standard of proof for the scientific community, despite some partisan claims to the contrary.
Nowhere is the issue more evident than in the Arctic and Antarctic, where centuries-old permafrost is melting and sheets of ice are disappearing into the ocean, triggering a global rise in sea levels.
Earlier this week, scientists revealed that chinstrap penguin colonies in Antarctica have shrunk by as much as 77 per cent since the 1970s. They attributed the drastic decline to a loss of sea ice caused by climate change.
“The declines that we’ve seen are definitely dramatic,” said Steve Forrest, an American conservation biologist who helped with the survey earlier this year.
“Something is happening to the fundamental building blocks of the food chain here,” he told Reuters.
“We’ve got less food abundance that’s driving these populations down lower and lower over time and the question is, is that going to continue?”