A region near the eastern coast of Antarctica saw the temperature surge at least 39 degrees Celsius above the norm — making it the most intense heat wave ever recorded on Earth, according to a report by The Washington Post (WP). Temperatures usually hover around minus-54 degrees Celsius in this region, making it a staggering occurrence. According to scientists, such a rise in temperature in that region of the world was unthinkable.
The surge in temperature was so severe that researchers on-site were wearing shorts, with some even removing their shirts to bask in the unusual warmth.
Edward Blanchard-Wrigglesworth, the study's author, said it was very apparent that it was a "remarkable event." The researchers found that the 39-degree temperature anomaly is the largest ever measured anywhere in the world, he added.
Blanchard-Wrigglesworth, an atmospheric scientist at the University of Washington, said that temperatures in March are typically around -54 degrees Celsius on the east coast near Dome C. Daily mean temperatures on March 18, 2022, were registered at -15 degrees Celsius. An hourly temperature recording even rose to -10 degrees Celsius. He added that it is warmer than even the hottest temperature recorded during the summer months in that area.
Blanchard-Wrigglesworth and his team were researching how such an unimaginable temperature hike could occur in Antarctica, especially when there is less sunlight.
Their preliminary findings showed that unusual winds played an important part. Usually, winds blow from west to east around Antarctica, shielding it from warmer areas farther north. But this time, the winds warm air from southern Australia to East Antarctica within four days. Additionally, the northerly winds brought with them plenty of moisture, resulting in snow, rain, and melting along the eastern coast of the ice sheet.
While Antarctica saw its lowest recorded sea ice on record, the researchers said this did not directly influence the heat wave.
Blanchard-Wrigglesworth said the largest anomalies happen at high latitudes as there is more cold air to displace near the ground, leading to warm weather events, often around winter. Places with high latitudes with plenty of snow and ice have colder air near the ground and warmer air above it, termed an inversion layer. A warm air mass in such spots can displace the cold air and lead to warm weather. These warm events often happen during or around winter.
Blanchard-Wrigglesworth said that is what led to the Antarctic heat wave.
Jonathan Wille, a meteorologist not involved in the study, stated he is not surprised that this Antarctic heat wave was recorded as the largest observed temperature anomaly anywhere as the Antarctic Plateau has some of the highest temperature variability in the world.