Updated 02/07/2021: The World Meteorological Organization has since rejected this recording, claiming an improvised radiation shield led to a thermal bias error for the temperature sensor.
Just days after mainland Antarctica tipped a record temperature of 18.3°C (64.9°F), there are fresh reports of yet another record in the region: a positively pleasant air temperature of 20.75°C (69.35°F), the hottest temperature ever recorded on land in Antarctica.
Brazilian scientists clocked the new record air temperature on Seymour Island in West Antarctica on February 9, 2020. Speaking to The Guardian, which first broke the news, Carlos Schaefer, a Brazilian government scientist who studies permafrost in Antarctica, described the new record as “incredible and abnormal”.
“We are seeing the warming trend in many of the sites we are monitoring, but we have never seen anything like this,” he added.
The numbers still need to be confirmed and double-checked by the World Meteorological Society (WMO) before it can be considered official. If correct, it will beat the previous record high temperature on non-mainland Antarctica of 19.8°C (67.64°F), which was taken on Signy Island in January 1982.
As mentioned, an unconfirmed new mainland record temperature of 18.3°C (64.9°F) was registered at the Argentine research base, Esperanza, on the northern tip of the Antarctic peninsula on February 6. This broke the previous high of 17.5°C (63.5°F) recorded on March 24, 2015.
Antarctica is a colossal container and has huge variations in temperatures across its geographical range. The average annual temperature ranges from about -10°C (-14°F) on the Antarctic coast to -60°C (-76°F) at the deepest points of its interior. These latest record-breakers were recorded on or around the Antarctic Peninsula, a strip of land that pokes out of the northernmost part of mainland Antarctica like a tail.
The new record should not be directly conflated with climate change, which should be understood as a long-term trend rather than a one-off data point. Speaking about record temperatures on mainland Antarctica this month, WMO Weather and Climate Extremes rapporteur Randall Cerveny explained: “The record appears to be likely associated (in the short term) with what we call a regional ‘foehn’ event over the area: a rapid warming of air coming down a slope/mountain. Verification of this maximum temperature record is important because it helps us to build up a picture of the weather and climate in one of Earth’s final frontiers.”
With that said, the wider trend of warming is clear to see in Antarctica and beyond. In July last year, a town in northern Sweden hit 34.8°C (94.6°F), achieving the nation’s highest temperature ever recorded within the Arctic Circle.
Last month was the warmest January ever recorded on Earth, registering both the highest global land and ocean surface temperatures since records began in 1880. The freakishly warm January 2020 was also off the back of a worryingly warm year, which was part of an exceptionally warm decade.