From a glacier break to record temperatures, Antarctica had quite the week in climate change
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This week, an iceberg the size of Atlanta broke off a glacier. Researchers discovered a dramatic decline in Antarctic penguin colonies. And Antarctica may have just registered its hottest temperature ever.
In case all of that was not enough to make you at least a little concerned, yet another unusually high temperature was logged in the Antarctic Peninsula on February 9, when a weather station on Seymour Island produced a reading of almost 70 degrees. The World Meteorological Association is trying to verify it as a new record.
Though the WMO has not yet determined whether this reading breaks any sort of record, it certainly provides additional evidence of warming in the Antarctic region and around the world, according to Randall Cerveny, a meteorologist at Arizona State University and a climate extremes expert at the World Meteorological Organization.
According to the organization’s website, these events are all consistent with trends seen in Antarctica over the past few years. The Antarctic Peninsula, where the potentially record-breaking February temperatures were logged, is one of the fastest-warming regions on the planet.
“Our polar regions are kind of the canary in the mine,” said Cerveny, “They are a more sensitive environment, so they are a warning system to other areas of the world.”
The decline of the Antarctic penguin colonies provides evidence of the effects of this broader warming on the animals that inhabit these sensitive regions. The number of penguins on Elephant Island, where a recently released survey took place, is half what it was at the last survey in 1971.
Noah Strycker, an ornithologist and penguin researcher at Stony Brook University, told CNN that climate change has removed these penguins’ primary food source, krill.
“Penguins, seals and whales all depend on krill, which depends on ice. So if climate change affects the ice, that impacts on everything else,” he said in an earlier interview with CNN.
While the penguin decline and Pine Island Glacier breakage were due to long-term influences, it is important to note that this week’s potentially record-breaking temperatures, if verified, are mostly due to a very specific weather event called a “foehn,” which causes unusually warm temperatures.
The temperatures have already returned to normal, but this does not mean that Antarctica’s rising temperatures should be disregarded, according to Ella Gilbert, a climate scientist who works at the British Antarctic Survey.
“Although we can’t take single events as an indication of a long-term trend, extreme events like these are becoming more common as the climate changes,” she told CNN.