Advertisement

Nature

The South Pole Just Experienced Its Coldest Winter On Record

author

Dr. Alfredo Carpineti

Senior Staff Writer & Space Correspondent

clockOct 7 2021, 14:17 UTC
The Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station. Image Credit: Bill Spindler, U.S. Antarctic Program, National Science Foundation Public Domain

The Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station. Image Credit: Bill Spindler, U.S. Antarctic Program, National Science Foundation Public Domain

This summer was a summer of extremes. Extreme heat and extreme weather events devastated the Northern Hemisphere, while in contrast, Antarctica experienced even colder than usual temperatures throughout the southern winter months, including the coldest winter at the South Pole since records began.

Advertisement

While scientists have acknowledged this as an impressive and unusual record, Antarctica and the planet, in general, continue to warm at an escalating rate.

The record-breaking average temperature recorded at the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station – where the geographic South Pole is located – between April and September was -61.1°C (-78°F), the lowest since records began in 1957. Italian journalist Stefano Di Battista first reported the figures, noting this was -2.5 °C (-4.5 °F) lower than the average for winter months in the preceding 30 years.

The numbers were confirmed by Dr Richard Cullather at NASA’s Global Modeling and Assimilation Office to The Washington Post. Dr Amy Butler, an atmospheric scientist at NOAA, told the Post the colder season was likely due to the stronger polar vortex, which appeared to have contributed to the unexpected cold around the South Pole.

“Basically, the winds in the polar stratosphere have been stronger than normal, which is associated with shifting the jet stream toward the pole,” Dr Butler said. “This keeps the cold air locked up over much of Antarctica.”

Advertisement

However, while the South Pole was colder than average, satellite observations throughout the winter season show much variation in temperatures through the Antarctic continent. Back in April, during the beginning of the six months of winter, Antarctica saw colder than average temperatures in several parts of the continent, especially in West Antarctica, which was 10°C (18°F) below the average for the month over the previous 20 years. Quite different from the situation in East Antarctica that experienced hotter than average conditions for April.

In May, the situation seemed to reverse and satellite data reports that the Weddell Sea had a hotter-than-average anomaly of 9°C (16.2°F) above the average temperature for the month. This anomaly ended up affecting the extent of sea ice around the continent. June saw a return to incredibly cold conditions for most of the continent with an even more extreme anomaly in surface air temperature than was seen in April. The coldest area experienced temperatures that reached 10°C (18 °F) below the average for June over the last two decades. It was then followed by a hotter July across Antarctica.

August saw once again colder than average temperatures throughout most of the continent, although again, the exception was East Antarctica. It's concerning seeing in the same calendar month Antarctica experienced some of the lowest below-average temperature difference (- 12°C/-21.6°F ) and also the hottest (12°C/21.6°F). The latest data shows the trend continued in September with temperatures above average over eastern Antarctica, but temperatures below average for most of western Antarctica.

Advertisement

[H/T: The Washington Post]


Nature
  • climate change,

  • climate crisis