As I just returned from Antarctica and only six days after my feet were last on the continent, my inbox and face-place feed were inundated with references to the latest news from the white continent – that the evidence indicates that the highest temperature ever recorded in Antarctica was recently recorded.
The temperature [63.5 F / 17.5 C] was recorded at the Argentine Esperanza Base, which is farther north by more than 150 miles than the research base I visited, the Ukrainian Vernadsky Research Base. However, while this fact may indicate another story in the narrative of global climate change, a record high does not in and of itself tell the entire story, and, while ice shelves in parts of the continent are decreasing, there is more ice in other parts.
According to National Geographic, “the previous hottest known temperature on the continent was 62.8°F [17.1°C], recorded at Esperanza Base on April 24, 1961. The temperature has yet to be certified as an official record for the continent by the World Meteorological Organization.
It’s hard to draw much conclusion from a single temperature record, cautions Gavin Schmidt, a climate scientist with NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York City. Last year Antarctica also logged a record cold temperature, he notes.
The world’s ocean has been warming rapidly, absorbing much of the planet’s excess heat. As a result, large glaciers on or around Antarctica that come in contact with the warming water have been melting rapidly. But some other glaciers farther inland on the continent are actually growing.
‘That has not been satisfactorily explained,’ says Schmidt. The science is particularly complex because the ozone hole continues to affect the region’s climate in ways that aren’t well understood. And global circulation of winds and currents remains a challenge for scientists to grasp.”
As has been posited by many a media outlet, the fact that I wore my speedos on the Antarctic Peninsula is perhaps yet another causal agent in the record high temperature.