We all heard Leonardo DiCaprio’s speech: “Climate change is real, it is happening right now. It is the most urgent threat facing our entire species, and we need to work collectively together and stop procrastinating.”
And we all need to realise, he’s got a point. While the Aussie summer practically melted us, our concerns need to be turned towards a continent that is literally melting. Antarctica has been feeling the heat recently with not only the shift in the Larson ice shelf which gained a whopping 10km this year and a 2km crater in the icy continent, but with its new record high temperatures, hitting just below an average day in Sydney at 17.5 degrees Celsius. Researchers stress how worrying it is that a region which usually sits around -10 degrees Celsius on the coast (and -60 degrees Celsius in other areas) has recorded these temperatures.
The highest recorded temperature in the Antarctic region – anything south of 60 degrees- was 19.8 degrees Celsius. That temperature however, was recorded at the Signy Research Station on the 30th January 1982. While you may think this is good news, the 17.5 degrees Celsius was only just recorded on the 24 March 2015 and is confirmed as the highest temperature for the continent of Antarctica (adjoining islands as well as continental land mass). These high temperatures would have the ripple effect across the globe, as Antarctica contains 90% of all our fresh water. In the unlikely event that the entire 3-mile-thick ice shelf should melt, sea levels would rise 60 metres, according to the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO).
With our crazy summers you would think that Australia would be the fastest warming region on Earth (at least it feels that way), but you would be very wrong. The Antarctic Peninsula (located near South America) has gained 3 degrees in the past 50 years, taking the title. So, what’s causing this heat? Some scientists are looking to the warm down slope winds caused by changes in the atmospheric circulation known as Foehn winds or Chinook winds. These winds act like a convection oven, easily and quickly heating up regions as it sweeps through.
These winds have been blowing unnoticed for some 30 years. They are only now being observed and linked to severe glacial collapses in the east of the Antarctic Peninsula. Scientists are baffled that a large chunk of glacial erosion occurred mid-winter, thought to be the least likely time for it to occur. Erin Petit from the University of Alaska said, “The Antarctic Peninsula is the only barrier [to these winds] – the only thing they have to slam into.”
Petit also explains that the growing dangers of climate warming will increase the strength and severity of the Foehn winds, which will have a devastating effect on the continent.
We all need to realise that when you can get away with wearing shorts and thongs in Antarctica, we’re doing something wrong.