'Antarctica Melts,' NASA Says,
Showing Effects Of A Record Warm SpellFebruary 21, 20204:37 PM ETby Bill Chappell
Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk
in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.You can see the original article here.Satellite images show the effects of a prolonged warm
spell on Eagle Island, in the far north of the Antarctic
Peninsula, NASA says. An inch of snowpack melted
in just one day, the agency says. The blue areas in
snow on the right are ponds of melted water.
there was a white ice cap, there are now brown blotches of land; melted
snow and ice have created ponds of water. Those are the effects of the
recent record high temperatures in Antarctica, according to NASA, which
on Friday released stunning before-and-after satellite images of the northern Antarctic Peninsula.High temperatures are seen on the Antarctic
photos center on Eagle Island, part of the northern tip of the
Antarctic Peninsula that stretches toward South America. Satellites
took the images just nine days apart, on Feb. 4 and Feb. 13. But
dramatic changes took place in that time span. Two days after the first
photo was taken, the area hit 18.3 degrees Celsius (64.9 degrees
Fahrenheit) — matching that day's temperature in Los Angeles, NASA
"The warm spell caused widespread melting on nearby
glaciers," the space agency says. "Such persistent warmth was not
typical in Antarctica until the 21st century, but it has become more
common in recent years."
On Eagle Island, the biggest loss of
ice and snow came on Feb. 6, when an inch of snowpack melted, according
to NASA's climate models. By Feb. 11, the island had lost 4 inches of
"I haven't seen melt ponds develop this quickly in Antarctica," Mauri Pelto, a glaciologist at Nichols College in Massachusetts, said in NASA's news release about the phenomenon.
The nearly 65-degree temperature was reported by Argentina's research station at Esperanza Base. Experts at the World Meteorological Organization
are still verifying the record. The agency calls the Antarctic
Peninsula one of the fastest-warming regions on Earth, with average
temperatures rising almost 3 degrees Celsius (5.4 degrees Fahrenheit)
over the past half century.
"These warm events are occurring more frequently" in that part of the peninsula, says Alexandra Isern, head of Antarctic sciences at the National Science Foundation.
Peninsula, in this map reflecting conditions on
Feb. 9. NASA says the map reflects temperatures
about 6 1/2 feet above the ground.
the NASA images Friday, Isern also cautions, "We have to understand
that those images were taken about as far north in Antarctica as you
can get. So if any place is going to have those melt ponds, that's
certainly going to be one place."Back to News Page 2Back to NewsBack to More Stuff
Still, she says, it's surprising to see such a rapid and dramatic shrinkage of snow and ice.
"You see those sort of things in Greenland and in the Arctic more often than you see them in the Antarctic," Isern says.
the recent warmup lasted for more than a week, she says, researchers
are left with a troubling question: "Are we starting to see these warm
events also lasting longer than they did before?"
The answer to
that, Isern says, could have far-ranging impacts for the area,
including the possibility that new invasive species could gain a
foothold in Antarctica if its climate becomes more forgiving.
agrees with NASA's assessment that a number of weather conditions
combined to create the unusually high temperatures in the Antarctic's
"Typically, the peninsula is shielded from warm air masses by the Southern Hemisphere westerlies,
a band of strong winds that circle the continent," NASA says. "However,
the westerlies were in a weakened state, which allowed the
extra-tropical warm air to cross the Southern Ocean and reach the ice
sheet. Sea surface temperatures in the area were also higher than
average by about 2-3°C."
The task now, Isern says, is to determine whether those factors created an anomaly or whether they hint at a new pattern.
is a weather event," she says of the recent warm spell. She believes
scientists will now try to figure out whether the warm weather event in
Antarctica's northern peninsula is on its way to becoming a climate