Global Warming

Rain, floods and confused seals: Antarctica’s warmest-ever summer

With annual rainfall of just 6.5 inches, Antarctica is technically considered a desert, but the two days of drizzle was just one of a number of remarkable weather phenomenon observed by scientists in 2020.

A heatwave began in late spring to the east of the Antarctic Peninsula and circumnavigated the continent. The Casey Research Station, south of Australia, saw three days of record-breaking temperatures, culminating in the all-time high of 9.2C on 24 January.

Antarctica’s heatwave made international headlines on 6 February when its highest ever temperature – 20.75C – was recorded on Seymour Island, just off the Antarctic Peninsula, the narrow arm that juts out into the Southern Ocean to within 1,000 kilometres of South America.

At Australia’s station in the typically ice-free Vestfold Hills, the landscape was transformed. New rivers were formed in the ice, existing lakes flooded and new ones were formed. The ice runway where planes land from Australia was inaccessible for ten weeks. It even left the seals confused.

The reason for rising temperatures in Antarctica are complex, ranging from the lateness of the Indian monsoon season, to warmer patches of water in the Pacific Ocean, to the position of the hole in the Ozone layer, to the strength of jet stream winds across the Southern Ocean.

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