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The Coldest Place On Earth Has Recorded Its First Ever Heatwave

Temperatures across much of Antarctica have risen to unprecedented levels, with scientists recording the continent’s first heatwave ever.

The summer heatwave was reported at Australia's Casey research station in East Antarctica.

It's a concerning development, experts say proves even the coldest place on Earth is not immune to the effects of climate change.

Heatwaves are classified as three consecutive days of extreme maximum and minimum temperatures.

A typical moss turf from Antarctic Specially Protected Area No. 135 near Casey research station. Image: Sharon Robinson

Between January 23 and 26 2020, minimum and maximum temperatures at the research station exceeded zero, with daily maximums higher than 7.5 degrees Celsius.

On January 24, the mercury reached its highest maximum of 9.2 degrees, which is almost seven degrees above the station's mean maximum temperature in its 31-year history.

A team of researchers from the University of Wollongong (UOW), Australian Antarctic Division, University of Tasmania and University of Santiago, Chile, published the data in Global Change Biology on Tuesday.

Flooding of a moss bed at Mossel Lake, January 22, 2020. Image: Dana Bestrom

The researchers said the heatwave started in late spring east of the Antarctic Peninsula before circumnavigating the continent over four months.

By February, the heat was concentrated in the Antarctic Peninsula -- at the northernmost part of the continent -- where a new maximum temperature of 18.4 degrees was recorded on February 6. Three days later, a record 20.75 degrees was recorded at Brazil's Marambio station, east of the Peninsula.

The warm conditions also triggered "meltwater pools" and surface streams on glaciers, along with rain in the Vestfold Hills -- the largest ice-free area in Antarctica.

Map of surface air temperature differences between the January 2020 average and 1979-2019 mean for the Southern Hemisphere. Above-average temperatures are coloured red. Image: Andrew Klekociuk based on NCEP-NCAR Reanalysis 1 data,

What Caused This?

The scientists believe the warmer weather is linked to a break up of the ozone hole in 2019.

Dr Andrew Klekociuk from the Australian Antarctic Division said this was caused by rapid warming in the stratosphere -- or the atmospheric region over 12-kilometre altitude.

“The upper levels of the atmosphere at the edge of Antarctica were strongly disturbed in the spring of 2019, and effects of this likely further influenced the lower atmosphere over Antarctica during the summer,” Klekociuk said.

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Antarctica Heat Wave Causes Massive Ice Melting, NASA Satellite Images Show

A dramatic melting of ice and snow in Antarctica has been revealed in new satellite pictures, following a record heatwave on the icy continent.

Why Does This Matter?

While most of Antarctica is covered in ice, there are small pockets of "ice-free oases" which the researchers said makeup 0.44 per cent of the continent.

In an article published by The Conversation, authors wrote these areas are "vital biodiversity hot spots" for penguins and other seabirds, mosses, lakes, ponds and invertebrates.

Lead scientist Dr Dana Bergstrom said the warm summer could lead to long-term disruption to local populations and ecosystems.

"Most life exists in small ice-free oases in Antarctica and largely depends on melting snow and ice for their water supply," Bergstrom said.

Dr Dana Bergstrom at work in the Vestfold Hills, Antarctica. Image: Patti Virtue

She explained while "meltwater flooding" can provide extra water to desert ecosystems, excessive flooding can dislodge plants, invertebrates and microorganisms.

“If the ice melts completely, early in the season, then ecosystems will suffer drought for the rest of the season," she said.

The researchers added melting ice sheets add to global sea-level rise.

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Antarctica Might Have Just Had Its Hottest Ever Day -- A Balmy 18 Degrees

Global warming is hitting the world's coldest places, with the Antarctic Peninsula currently hotter than Texas, measuring a record-breaking 18.3 degrees Celsius.

While Antarctica is isolated from other continents by the Southern Ocean, they warned what happens there has worldwide impacts.

"Antarctica represents the simple, extreme end of conditions for life," the authors wrote. 

"It can be seen as a ‘canary in the mine’, demonstrating patterns of change we can expect to see elsewhere."