Antarctica may have just seen the continent's hottest day on record

Scott Sutherland
Antarctica may have just seen the continent's hottest day on record
Antarctica may have just seen the continent's hottest day on record

Antarctica is experiencing summertime right now, but even summer in the polar continent is still quite cold, with temperatures typically just above freezing. Just this week, scientists working there recorded the hottest daily high temperature they have ever seen.

On February 6, 2020, Argentina's National Meteorological Service (SMN) recorded a daily high temperature of 18.3°C at Esperanza Base, at the northern tip of the Antarctic Peninsula.

This is nearly 15 degrees Celcius warmer than the average daily high seen at the base during the month of February. It is now logged as the highest temperature ever recorded at the station during the entire year. It beats out the previous daily high temperature for the year of 17.5°C, recorded on March 24, 2015.

On Twitter, SMN Argentina posted (translated from Spanish): "This noon the Base #Esperanza recorded a new historical record (since 1961) of temperature, with 18.3°C. This value exceeds the previous record of 17.5°C on March 24, 2015. And it was not the only record."

"Base #Marambio It also recorded the highest temperature for the month of February since 1971. It reached 14.1°C and exceeded 13.8°C on February 24, 2013."

The temperature of 14.2°C shown in the image posted by SMN Argentina was not the daily high recorded, however. That was apparently 15.8°C, as pointed out in a reply by Oficina Meteorológica Metropolitana (OFIMET Argentina).

Now, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) is in the process of evaluating this February 6 temperature of 18.3°C. If they confirm it, it will rank as the highest temperature ever recorded for the entire Antarctic continent.

"Everything we have seen thus far indicates a likely legitimate record, but we will of course begin a formal evaluation of the record once we have full data from SMN and on the meteorological conditions surrounding the event," said Randall Cerveny, the WMO's Weather and Climate Extremes rapporteur.

"The record appears to be likely associated (in the short term) with what we call a regional 'foehn' event over the area," Cerveny said in a WMO press release.

'Foehn' is the German term for the same meteorological conditions as Chinook winds, describing air that warms during its descent down the slopes of a mountain.

Compared to the rest of the world, which has seen a temperature rise of roughly 1.2°C since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, the Antarctic Peninsula has been warming at roughly three times that rate.

According to the WMO, the current record high temperature for the entire Antarctic region (the continent and all islands south of 60 degrees latitude) is 19.8°C. This was seen in January of 1982, on Signy Island, over 660 kilometres to the northeast of Esperanza Base.

(Teaser image courtesy Climate Reanalyzer)

Sources: WMO | Climate Reanalyzer | SMN Argentina | Yale Environment 360