One of the coldest places in the world is warming up fast.
Scientists from the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) announced a new record high temperature of 63.5 degrees Fahrenheit for the continent of Antarctica. The temperature was initially recorded on March 24, 2015 at the Argentine research base Esperanza, nestled on the northernmost tip of the Antarctic Peninsula just underneath South America. The new high swaps places with the previous record of 59 degrees, recorded at the now closed New Zealander Vanda Station January 5th, 1974.
The finding is part of a concerted push by the WMO to increase our ability to forecast weather patterns at the poles and better understand naturally occurring climate variability and human-induced climate change. Given that the entire globe is setting record high temperatures with every passing year, this is increasingly important.
"The Antarctic and the Arctic are poorly covered in terms of weather observations and forecasts, even though both play an important role in driving climate and ocean patterns and in sea level rise," said WMO polar expert Michael Sparrow, in a public statement.
The lowest temperature ever recorded in Antarctica—and the world for that matter—was a numbing -128.6 degrees at the Soviet run Vostok station in 1983. Average temperatures range from about 14 degrees on the coast, to -76 degrees at the highest reaches of the dry, blustery interior.
Weather extremes are distinct from climate patterns, but understanding them over the long term helps put our understanding climate into context.
The Antarctic Peninsula, where the record high temperature was recorded, is one of the fastest warming regions of the planet—over 5 degrees in the last 50 years. In that same period of time, 87 percent of the glaciers on the west coast of the peninsula retreated. In the last 12 years, that retreat has accelerated rapidly.
Scientists are currently monitoring a 1,500 foot wide crack forming in an ice shelf on the eastern side of the peninsula. The chasm has now grown to almost 50 miles long, and risks sending an iceberg the size of Delaware out to sea if it breaks.