A heatwave that lasted nine days scorched Antarctica’s northern tip earlier this month.
New images from NASA show that almost a quarter of an Antarctic island’s snow cover melted in that time, an increasingly common sign of the climate crisis.
The images released show Eagle Island on the northeastern peninsula of the icy continent at the beginning and end of this month’s Antarctic heatwave. By the end of the nine-day heat, a huge portion of the land beneath the island’s ice cap was seen, and pools of meltwater opened upon its surface.
Earlier this month, Antarctica experienced its hottest day on record peaking at 64.9 degrees Fahrenheit. According to NASA, Los Angeles had the same temperature that day. And now, in just over a week, 4 inches of Eagle Island’s snowpack melted. Authorities from NASA’s Earth Observatory said that’s about 20% of the island’s total seasonal snow accumulation.
Mauri Pelto, a geologist at Nichols College in Massachusetts told NASA’s Earth Observatory:
“I haven’t seen melt ponds develop this quickly in Antarctica.”
“You see these kinds of melt events in Alaska and Greenland, but not usually in Antarctica.”
Climate scientist Xavier Fettweis plotted the amount of meltwater that reached the ocean from the Antarctic peninsula. Based on this, he concluded that the heatwave was the highest contributor to sea-level rise this summer.
As Pelot emphasized, melt events like this are kinda rare for Antarctica even during the summer, considering that it’s one of the coldest places in the world.
He continued saying that this heatwave was the result of sustained high temperatures, which almost never occurred on the continent until the 21st century. This kind of weather event is known to grow increasingly common as global temperatures rise.
In a report from NASA, it stated that just this month, high pressure over Cape Horn in Chile’s archipelago allowed warm temperatures to build up and spread. Antarctica’s northernmost peninsula is normally protected from these high temperatures because of strong winds that cross the Southern Hemisphere, but those winds were unusually weak and couldn’t stop the high temperatures from reaching the continent’s northern tip.
According to the World Meteorological Organization, ice caps in Antarctica are already melting rapidly due to heat-trapping gas pollution from humans. The rising sea levels could be catastrophic for the people who live along the world’s coasts: Antarctica’s ice sheets are said to contain enough water to raise global sea levels by nearly 200 feet.
In addition, the European Space Agency also reported a massive iceberg along the western edge of Antarctica that broke off from the Pine Island Glacier. The 116 square mile-chunk of ice likely fractured as a result of warmer sea temperatures, and it’s evidence that the glacier is quickly responding to climate change.