Both of the Earth’s poles have been experiencing extreme heat events at the same time, and scientists are calling it “not a good sign.”
Weather stations in Antarctica shattered records Friday as the region neared autumn. The three-kilometre-high Concordia station was at -12.2 C, while the even higher Vostok station hit -17.7 C, beating its all-time record by about 15 C, according to a tweet from extreme weather record tracker Maximiliano Herrera.
The coastal Terra Nova Base was far above freezing, at 7 C.
Climate scientist Dr. Robert Rohde shared the info on Twitter, writing: “That’s not an error, or a typo.”
“This event is rewriting record books and our expectations about what is possible in Antarctica,” he continued in a followup tweet. “Is this simply a freakishly improbable event, or is it a sign of more to come? Right now, no one knows.”
The unusual event caught officials at the National Snow and Ice Data Center in Boulder, Colo., by surprise.
“They are opposite seasons. You don’t see the north and the south (poles) both melting at the same time,” Walt Meier, an ice scientist from the centre, told The Associated Press.
“It’s definitely an unusual occurrence.”
Researcher Stefano Di Battista wrote on Twitter, “Antarctic climatology has been rewritten.”
He described the temperature surge as “impossible” and “unthinkable.”
“Not a good sign when you see that sort of thing happen,” University of Wisconsin meteorologist Matthew Lazzara told The Washington Post.
However, both Lazzara and Meier told the AP that what happened in Antarctica is probably just a random weather event and not a sign of climate change. The caveat is, if it happens again or repeatedly, then it might be something to worry about and part of global warming, they said.
What makes the Antarctic warming really strange is that the southern continent — except for its vulnerable peninsula, which is warming quickly and losing ice rapidly — has not been warming much, especially when compared with the rest of the globe, Meier said.
Antarctica did set a record for the lowest summer sea ice — records go back to 1979 — with it shrinking to 1.9 million square kilometres in late February, the snow and ice data centre reported.
What likely happened was “a big atmospheric river” pumped in warm and moist air from the Pacific southward, Meier said.
And in the Arctic, which has been warming two to three times faster than the rest of the globe and is considered vulnerable to climate change, warm Atlantic air was coming north off the coast of Greenland.