On March 18th 2022, the Antarctic Plateau’s permanent weather station recorded the highest temperature in its 66 operational year history. This was during an unprecedented heatwave at the Concordia-Dome C research facility. Strong winds from Australia brought temperatures up to 47°C (85° Fahrenheit) above the average. This unusual and unprecedented warmth has broken temperature records at the coldest spot on the planet.
UNPRECEDENTED HOT WATER IN ANTARCTICA
According to models-based data sources and measurements made on-site in the last few days, East Antarctica is experiencing an unprecedented heatwave that is unlike any other.
The area-averaged surface air temperature anomaly over the Antarctica continent these days is almost +4.0 ° C, which is +7.2 ° F. However, in a large part of East Antarctica temperatures anomalies are close to 30 ° C (54 ° F) above average for this time of the year.
Locally, as reported for instance by a weather station in Concordia over the Antarctic plateau, the temperature is almost 50 ° C (90 ° F) above average. These values make this heatwave unique, especially in the internal part Antarctica.
This unprecedented heatwave is breaking records at the coldest spot on the planet. The image above shows a model-based chart of the regional temperature anomaly of 2 meters published by the Climate Change Institute at University of Maine. It is based on data interpolated from 19 March. 2 meters Temperature Anomaly refers to the departure of the current day’s forecasted temperature from a long-term mean for the same day of the year.
These anomalies are based a 1979-2000 NCEP Climate Forecast System Reanalysis. Temperatures are 20 to 30°C above normal for the period in the interior of the great white continent, and largely positive on the coast. Many records have been broken.
The late-summer polar hotwave that grips more than half of Antarctica’s population is caused by Northerly wind flow between an upper level trough or ridge. This allows warm air to travel across South Ocean and reach Antarctica this week.
This unusual circumstance is pushing mild winds towards Antarctica from Australia. The warm inflow basically reaches The Antarctic Continent’s most internal parts.
The heatwave’s warm air mass has been making parts in southeastern Australia feel unseasonably hot. It traveled from Australia towards Antarctica. On Thursday, the town of Hobart climbed almost 10 ° C above average to a top of 29.2 ° C, while some parts of the state had their warmest March day in several years.
The heatwave began just a few days ago. The image shows the warm air reaching the polar continent Wednesday, March 16th. The coast of Antarctica is to the south of Australia where the highest temperature is.
Below is a video we created showing the 700 hPa Geopotential Height in Decameters with integrated water vapor transport (black Arrows) and the equivalent Kelvin potential temperature with wind in knots. This animation shows the strong inflow of warm Australian air that began on March 16th.
The injection of warm air saw Australia’s Casey Research Station in the Antarctic coast register a maximum temperature of 5.6 ° C on Wednesday, March 16. This is the station’s highest March temperature on record, with data available back to 1989.
Before, the latest date to reach 5.6 ° C at Casey Station on this side of the winter solstice was February 5th in 2008, more than one month earlier than this new record. At the moment, there are 82 permanent research station in Antarctica. Casey Station’s highest temperature on record was 9.2 ° C on January 24th, 2020. Its lowest temperature was minus 34.0 ° C on August 24th, 2005.
ANTARCTICA RESEARCH STATIONS
Below is a map of the 82 permanent stations that are scattered across Antarctica. Forty of those bases are open all year. Other bases host scientific research between November and February during the Austral summer. These stations can also be located in different areas and have different capacities.
The US McMurdo station, which is located on an island and is open year-round, is one example. Up to 1,000 people live here during the Austral Summer. However, a small seasonal station like the Belgian Princess Elisabeth Station can only be open during the summer and can house up to 20 persons.
Most research stations are located along or very near the Antarctic coasts. However, there are a few research stations located on the plateau of the ice sheet, which is often more than 3000m above sea level. Amundsen Scott South Pole Station was built by the U.S. right at the geographic South Pole.
CONCORDIA STATION – DOME C
Thanks to scientific and logistic cooperation between France and Italy, Concordia at Dome C, an Italian-French research station, operates all year. This improbable warmth event was best documented by the weather instruments thanks to its geographic position, which is also the Russian research station Vostok.
Dome C, Concordia Station’s home, has a frigid climate all year. It is one of the coldest areas on Earth. It has a polar ice cap climate (Köppen EF), with maximums ranging from −24.8 and -36.1 ° C (−12.6 and -33.0 ° F) in December to −62.0 and -68.7 ° C (−80 and -91.7 ° F) in May.
The annual average air temperature is −54.5 ° C (−66.1 ° F). Concordia station has never recorded temperatures higher than freezing. The warmest temperature recorded was −5.4 ° C (22.3 ° F) in January.
Temperatures in Concordia can fall below −80 ° C (−112 ° F) in winter. The coldest recorded temperature was −84.6 ° C (−120.3 ° F) in August 2010 which is close to the coldest temperatures ever recorded on Earth. It is very dry and low in humidity. There is very little precipitation throughout each year.
Dome C is not subject to the katabatic winds common to the coast regions of Antarctica due to its elevated location and relative distance from the Antarctic Plateau. Winter winds average 2.8 m/s. Stephen Hudson took the image below from the 32-meter high weather tower. It shows the remoteness and isolation of the location.
The Concordia Research Station was opened in 2005 at 3,233m (10,607 feet above sea level) at Dome C, Antarctic Plateau, Antarctica. It is located 1,100 kilometers (680 miles) inland from the French research station at Dumont D’Urville, 1,100 kilometers (680 miles) inland from Australia’s Casey Station, and 1,200 kilometers (750 miles) inland from the Italian Mario Zucchelli Station at Terra Nova Bay.
Russia’s Vostok Station is 560 kilometers (350 miles) away. The Geographic South Pole is 1,670km (1,040 mile) away. Concordia Station is the third permanent, all-year research station on the Antarctic Plateau besides Vostok Station (Russian) and the Amundsen–Scott South Pole Station (U.S.) at the Geographic South Pole. It is jointly managed by scientists from France, Italy, and regularly hosts scientists of the European Space Agency.
The Concordia station aerial view is shown in the image above. The position of the automatic weather station (Vaisala Milos520) is marked by the red cross. The dominant wind rose is shown in the upper right‐hand corner. The location of the Concordia station is shown in the lower right‐hand corner (Pléiade Satellite Image—Concordia Station, Antarctica at CNES 2016, Distribution Airbus DS).
The final high recorded in Concordia on March 18th was -11.5 at 04:27 UTC. This is the highest temperature recorded in an Antarctic Plateau permanent weather station in 66 operational year (since 1957). Stefano Di Battista Reported.
The image above shows hourly temperatures recorded at Dome C, 3233m altitude. In blue the normal temperature is around -58 ° C for this period of the year. In red, the 2022 temperatures are displayed. The oldest data in gray is shown.
On March 18th the anomaly is between +46 and +47 ° C (83 and 85 ° F). The heatwave’s recorded value is clearly out of the range of the 2013-2021 time series. The image below shows the temperature detail in Concordia for March 2022.
Also in the Vostok research station on March 19th at 06 Zulu temperature was -31.0 ° C which is about 2 ° C higher than the previous record. Already the 17th in this research station the value of -20.3 ° C set the new monthly record but also exceeded the maximum of February (-22.2 ° C on 2009 day 6) and November (-22.0 ° C on 1974, day 23)
But the new monthly high in Vostok at the peak of the heatwave was recorded on 18th March with -17.7 ° C. This value exceeds by about 15 ° C the previous one and it is also the highest since December 23th 2018 (-14.6 ° C).
As the heatwave hits east Antarctica the temperature remains stable at the southern pole station with a typical value of -51.4 ° C for mid-March.
The image above shows the radiosonde which was launched on 17th by the scientists at the station. It displays the unusual nature of the air mass. Northerly flow over the entire profile above 700hPa, extremely mild (iso -10 ° C at 4000 m), and tropopause at 200 hectopascal which is exceptionally high for the latitude.
The ECMWF water vapor flux index SOT index is another way to visualize the incredible magnitude of the atmospheric river that flows over eastern Antarctica. It exceeds 8 in large areas on March 17-18.
THE ANOMALOUS PATTERN DURRING THE HEATWAVE OR THE JETSTREAM
Below is an image of the 250 hectopascal height measured in decameters. This was a remarkable amount for inland East Antarctica, and it is above 10,000m. A rare synoptic pattern at all elevations allowed for powerful north winds to flow from South Australia to East Antarctica.
On March 18th, you can see the jet stream meandering through a large area of the Antarctic Continent. It is highlighted in gray with a powerful wind speed anomaly.
A large positive anomaly is observed at the geopotential elevation of 500 hectopascals. It is associated with a High pressure system at all elevations. This structure appears flattened from both sides by two deep lows, with ground pressure around 950 millibars.
This record-breaking moment occurs just before the start the long polar evening. In the picture below, Late sun dogs at the South Pole are low in the sky, possibly the last of the season before the equinox sunset next week and the commencement of the long polar night at 90°South. Credits Aman Chokshi
However, Antarctica is not the first to experience these anomalous heat waves. Antarctica’s peninsula, the area pointing toward South America, is one of the fastest-warming places on Earth. In just the past fifty years, temperatures have increased 5 ° C on the continent, and around 87 percent of glaciers along the peninsula’s west coast have receded during that time.
Two years ago, On February 6, thermometers at the Esperanza Base on the northern tip of the Antarctica Peninsula marked a temperature of 18.3 ° C (64.9 ° F), about the same temperature as Los Angeles that day. The heatwave started on February 5, and continued through February 13.
NASA’s Earth Observatory released two images showing the effects of this heatwave on Antarctica’s Eagle Island ice cap. The images of before and after show a dramatic drop in ice and/or snow. Large portions of the ground can be clearly seen, and bright blue melted lakes can be seen at its center.
A SEASON of EXTREME EVENTS in ANTARCTICA
A warm summer in Antarctica and several strong föhn wind events smashed the Antarctic ice extent setting an all-time record low in 44 years of satellite observations. It is amazing to see this melting of the frozen ocean. The Southern Ocean ice cover fell below 2 million square kilometers for the first time since satellite measurements began in 1979.
The polar climate system is dominated by the sea ice extent. It has been a focal point of increasing attention in recent decades, mainly due to the dramatic and rapid decline in Arctic sea-ice extent.
The Arctic and Antarctic are geographic opposites, and not just because they stand on opposite ends of the Earth’s globe. They also have different land-sea arrangements. Antarctica has a continent surrounding an ocean in the Arctic.
These differences in the arrangement of land and water contribute to differences in each polar region’s climate, oceanic and atmospheric circulation patterns, and ice.
Antarctic ice usually peaks in September and October, and then drops to a minimum in February. Some areas see sea ice completely melt in the summer. The NASA Earth Observatory maps below are created by Joshua Stevens using AMSR2 data from GCOM-W1/JAXA. They show Antarctica’s extent for the season 2015-2016.
The Antarctica’s cold waters allow for rapid ice formation in winter. September is the peak month for ice coverage. It covers 16 million km2 or 6.2 millions square miles. In February, it shrinks down to 2 million km2 or 0.77million square miles. This is a greater fluctuation than in Arctic, where the structure of the continents encourages ice retention for longer periods.
While February 25th, 2022 is not the most severe anomaly in the entire record, it was for February’s end when the annual climatic minimum occurred. This is evident in the image below, which shows the Antarctic pack extent anomalies from January 1979 to the present thanks to satellite-era, NSIDC and DMSP SSM/I SSMIS.
The anomalies are plotted using a five-day running average from the 1981-2010 climate baseline. This data was then updated to February 28th. Zachari Labe created the graphic.
The current sea ice conditions in March are in line to the largest negative anomaly ever recorded by satellite in Antarctica.
The Weddell Sea east of Antarctic Peninsula shows the lowest extent of the icepack. This is due to its circular current which retains more ice each year than other parts of Antarctic coast. Despite this, the Antarctic summer was quite warm in the first part.
The NOAA Physical Science Laboratory has provided the following image as a reference: It shows the average summer air temperature in Antarctica between 1981 and 2010. In the image below the average temperature for the first part of the summer shows a massive positive anomaly up to 4 ° C in a large part of Antarctica. The image shows the departure from mean air temperature, in ° C. Yellows and reds indicate higher than average temperatures; blues and purples indicate lower than average temperatures.
The East Antarctic Ice Sheet’s interior was warm, but not close to the melting point. On the other hand, the melting point was more common in coastal areas during the summer season.
The strong Amundsen Sea Low westward of its normal position pushed Antarctic climate conditions into the second half of the Summer, January 1 – February 15. Strong northwest winds again flew across the Antarctic Peninsula with several föhn events. Recursively dry, warm and down-slope winds were observed on the mountain slopes.
The image below credits NSIDC courtesy NOAA Earth System Research Laboratory, shows the departure from average air temperature over Antarctica at the 925 hPa level, in ° C, from January 1 to February 15, 2022. Yellows and reds indicate temperatures that are higher than average; blues, and purples indicate temperatures that are lower than average.
The image below is credited to National Centers for Environmental Predictions (NCEP). Reanalysis data, National Center for Atmospheric Research shows the mean sea level pressure for Antarctic Peninsula between February 6 and 10, 2022.
During this period, an extremely intense event of föhn hit the eastern Peninsula. Stu conditions created intense snowfalls on the Peninsula’s Windward Side. This synoptic pattern, which has high pressure over Scotia Sea and low pressure over Amundsen Sea, produces strong N-NW wind. More than 50% of the Peninsula’s ice cover was interested by melting during this period.
Föhn is a warm, dry, downslope wind descending the lee side of the European Alps as a result of synoptic-scale, cross-barrier flow over the mountain range. Near-surface flow is located at or above the main Alpine barrier crest and gains its warmth and dryness through adiabatic descent.
The image below credits L. Lopez and NSIDC, M. MacFerrin CIRES and T. Mote from University of Georgia. This shows regional daily melt extents in seven Antarctic regions. Except for the Antarctic Peninsula, surface melting was restricted to near-coastal areas.
It is obvious in the Amundsen bellinghausen, Antarctic Peninsula and Ronne Embayment that the synoptic patterns produced such an intense melting event in terms of its extent.
All these events led to multiyear fast-ice in Larsen B embayment that had been in place since early 2011 showing widespread meltwater flooding. Some areas were flooded with deeper ponds, while others were drained by narrow cracks. Between January 16th to 21st the Larsen B Ice Shelf, which is linked to Antarctic Peninsula, was melted and disintegrated.
Because ice shelves are buoyant, they can displace water. This is why it is often said that melting ice shelves does nothing to cause sea-level rising. This is not the truth. Ice shelf melting produces freshwater that has a lower density then salty seawater.
This means that seawater displaced from an ice shelf is smaller than freshwater. The volume difference is about 2.6%. It has also been calculated that if all sea ice and sea shelves were to melt, the average global ocean level would rise by approximately 4 cm.
If all of the ice from the West Antarctic Ice Sheet were to melt, the global sea-level would rise by 3.2m.
The Antarctic Peninsula Ice Sheet would contribute 0.24 m or 0.79 feet to global sea-level rise on full melting, and currently contributes 0.22±0.16 millimeters or 0.009±0.6 inches per annum. The East Antarctic Ice Sheet’s sea-level equivalent is approximately 60 meters (or about 197 feet).
The global anomaly is pushed by the Arctic and Antarctic Ice extents in the sea. It is approximately 0.720 million square miles or -2.244 million sq km. The image below shows the current icepack anomalies for Antarctic and Arctic, source NSIDC. Edited by Zachari Labe. The 1981-2010 climatology is used to calculate the anomaly.
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Source: Severe Weather