Historic, simultaneous heat waves at both poles scare scientists

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A new alarm signal has just been sounded regarding global warming, if there were still some a. Climatologists are worried and dumbfounded by historic increases: the Antarctic zones are reaching 30 degrees Celsius above normal at the same time as the North Pole regions reach 17 degrees Celsius above usual levels. These simultaneous events could announce a more rapid and brutal deterioration of the climate than expected.

All week, Antarctica and the Arctic experienced very mild air and particularly high temperatures for the season. In eastern Antarctica, the southern summer is ending soon, losing about 25 minutes of sunshine per day on the mainland and should bring temperatures down, which apparently isn’t the case. Indeed, the Concordia search base, installs 3000 meters above sea level, recorded a temperature of -11,5 C, absolute record of heat this place. Further south, Terre Adlie en, the Dumont d’Urville base, we note 4.9 C in this month of March, also a record. Meteorologists even report frost-free days, not expected to occur after the month of February. Gatan Heymes, from Mto-France, points out: Frost-free days are occasional (Dumont dUrville), but they never occurred after the 30 February (in 2000).

On the Arctic side, we usually come out of winter only slowly, as the days get longer, but weather stations near the North Pole also showed worrying signs. They noted higher temperatures of 22 degrees Celsius normal, reaching levels usually reached later in the year.

These heat waves are therefore historic and change the very principle of the weather Antarctica, according to Jonathan Wille, researcher at the Grenoble Environmental Geosciences Institute. Walt Meier, principal investigator of the National Snow and Ice Data Center in Boulder, Colorado, told the Associated Press: These are opposite seasons. You do not see the [pôle] North and the [pôle] South melt at the same time. This is definitely an unusual event.

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Satellite images showing temperature anomalies dated 17 March 2022, right for the Arctic, left for the Antarctic. Climate Reanalyzer, Climate Change Institute, University of Maine, USA.

The origin of heat waves

J. Wille believes that the warm conditions over Antarctica were boosted by an “extreme atmospheric river”, or a narrow corridor of water vapor in the sky, on its eastern coast. According to computer models, the atmospheric river touched the Antarctic continent on Tuesday between Dumont d’Urville and Casey stations. It dropped a large amount of precipitation causing, potentially, a major melt event in the area. Moisture from the storm then diffused and spread across the continent.

However, a powerful high pressure system, or heat dome, moved over East Antarctica, preventing moisture from escaping. The heat dome was exceptionally intense. Wille points out: This is not something we’ve seen before. This humidity is the reason why the temperatures have become so high. He further explains that warm air is often transported over the Antarctic interior in this way, but not to this extent or intensity. Walt Meier adds: What makes the Antarctica warming really weird is that the southern continent except for its vulnerable peninsula which is rapidly warming and rapidly losing energy the ice hasn’t warmed up much, especially compared to the rest of the globe. Further studies are needed.

As for the Arctic, warming two to three times faster than the rest of the globe and considered vulnerable to climate change, warm air has arrived from the north, from the Atlantic, off the coast of Greenland.

The pack ice is retreating again

These heat waves are a strong signal of the dangers that humanity poses to the climate; and melting ice could also trigger further cascading changes that will accelerate climate degradation. Amidst all the variability of Antarctica, the imprints of human-caused climate change are evident. At the end of February 1991, the Antarctic sea ice had reached its smallest area recorded since the start of satellite measurements in 1979, with less than two million square kilometers, according to the American research center National Ice and Snow Data Center.

Sa The western ice sheet is losing mass, while the western parts of the continent and the peninsula are among the fastest warming regions on Earth. Warm ocean temperatures threaten to destabilize Antarctica’s Thwaites Glacier, a slab the size of Florida that contributes around 4% of the world’s annual sea level rise. This risks pushing millions of people to flee the coasts.

James Hansen, former chief scientist of NASA, considers the warming of the poles worrying and claims that Arctic sea ice this year could shrink enough to set a sad record for its lowest extent ever. He warns: The average ice thickness has decreased, so it is ripe for a major loss. The effect of the reduction in sea ice cover is to amplify the Earth’s energy imbalance, previously caused by the increase in greenhouse gases. Indeed, as polar ice melts, especially in the Arctic, it reveals a dark sea that absorbs more heat than reflective white ice. The sun’s rays are thus absorbed, and not reflected back into the atmosphere, reinforcing plantar warming.

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Chart showing the receding sea ice. right, in terms of area for the Arctic and left, in terms of mass for the Antarctic. NASA

A disturbing runaway

The rapid rise in temperatures at both poles is a clear warning of global warming of the planet. Last year, in the first chapter of its report, the IPCC warned of unprecedented warming signals in the Arctic and Antarctic that are already happening, leading to some changes that could quickly become irreversible. True, some scientists believe that this weather event is random and not a sign of climate change. Nevertheless, the concern comes from the fact that it could repeat itself, which would then be a sign of a runaway warming of the planet.

Wille and his colleagues are studying how climate change will affect circulation patterns around Antarctica, and whether atmospheric rivers will become more common or more intense. The researchers then conclude: We think they will get more intense because it’s just simple physics. But the details, we’re still trying to figure out. It would be very difficult to say that there is no imprint of climate change on an event like this.