Antarctica is experiencing shattered temperature records and an increase in unusual weather events thanks to human-caused climate change, according to a new paper published in Frontiers in Environmental Science.
The continent’s western end, especially the peninsula, has seen significant ice sheet melting, while the eastern side has at times gained ice. Researchers have nicknamed one fast-melting glacier “Doomsday Glacier,” and there is an international effort to understand the phenomenon. Antarctic sea ice has also fluctuated from record highs to unprecedented lows.
If these trends continue, the consequences could include disappearing coastlines and accelerated global warming due to the loss of sunlight-reflecting ice. The researchers assembled research on various aspects of Antarctica, including atmosphere and weather patterns, sea ice, land ice, ice shelves, and marine and land biology, to understand the causes of extreme events and their potential links to fossil fuel emissions.
The research highlighted several factors, including heatwaves, sea ice loss, ice shelf collapses, and impacts on biodiversity. For instance, a heatwave in Antarctica in March 2022 led to temperatures 38 degrees Celsius (70 degrees Fahrenheit) above normal. Sea ice is at an all-time low, and ice shelves, which serve as a cork holding back glaciers, are melting and collapsing.
The loss of sea ice and ice shelves contributes to faster glacier flow into the ocean and increased warming, as the Earth absorbs more solar radiation instead of reflecting it. While Antarctica is naturally an extreme environment, small changes can have significant impacts.
Scientists warn that extreme events, when superimposed on a trend of global warming, pose a significant threat. Preparing for these challenges requires continued efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and implement adaptation measures for sea-level rise and extreme weather worldwide. Despite the alarming signs from Antarctica and decades of warnings, action to address climate change remains insufficient and must accelerate.
Climate scientist Ted Scambos expressed disappointment that action has not been taken more swiftly and emphasized the need for faster responses to the climate crisis.