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Climate Scientists Raises Concern About Heat Waves at Earth's Poles

At this time of year, the Antarctic should be rapidly cooling after its summer, while the Arctic should only be gradually emerging from its winter as the days lengthen. It is unprecedented for both poles to be so hot at the same time.

Shivam Dwivedi
Melting of Ice at Poles
Melting of Ice at Poles

Heatwaves at both poles have alarmed climate scientists, who have warned that the "unprecedented" events could signal a faster and more abrupt climate breakdown. Temperatures in Antarctica reached record highs over the weekend, reaching up to 40 degrees Celsius above normal in some places.

Melting of Polar Ice:

At the same time, weather stations near the north pole showed signs of melting, with temperatures 30 degrees Celsius above normal, reaching levels normally seen much later in the year.

At this time of year, the Antarctic should be rapidly cooling after its summer, while the Arctic should only be gradually emerging from its winter as the days lengthen. It is unprecedented for both poles to be so hot at the same time.

The rapid rise in temperatures at the poles signals a disruption in the Earth's climate systems. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned last year in the first chapter of a comprehensive review of climate science that unprecedented warming signals were already occurring, resulting in some changes- such as polar melt- that could quickly become irreversible.

The danger is twofold: heatwaves at the poles are a strong indicator of the damage humanity is causing to the climate, and melting could trigger further cascading changes that will hasten climate breakdown.

As polar sea ice melts, especially in the Arctic, it exposes dark sea that absorbs more heat than reflective ice, further warming the planet. Much of Antarctica's ice covers land, and melting raises sea levels.

Scientists have warned that what is happening is "historic," "unprecedented," and "dramatic." According to Michael Mann, director of the Earth System Science Centre at Pennsylvania State University, the extreme weather being recorded is outstripping predictions to an alarming degree.

"The warming of the Arctic and Antarctic is cause for concern, as is the increase in extreme weather events, of which these are an example," he said. "The models have done a good job of projecting overall warming, but we've argued that extreme events are outstripping model predictions." These events emphasise the importance of taking action."

The most recent unprecedented weather patterns come after a series of terrifying heatwaves in 2021, most notably in the US Pacific north-west, where previous records were shattered by several degrees as temperatures climbed close to 50 degrees Celsius.

"I and colleagues were shocked by the number and severity of extreme weather events in 2021 – which were unexpected at a warming of 1.2C," said Mark Maslin, professor of earth system science at University College London. “Now we have Arctic temperature records, which indicate that we have entered a new extreme phase of climate change much sooner than expected."

According to the Associated Press, one weather station in Antarctica broke its all-time record by 15 degrees Celsius, while another coastal station used to deep freezes at this time of year was 7 degrees above freezing. Meanwhile, in the Arctic, some areas were 30 degrees Celsius above average.

Former NASA chief scientist James Hansen, who was among the first to warn governments about global warming more than three decades ago, told the Guardian that the heating of the poles was "concerning" and that sea ice in the Arctic this year could break a decade-old record for its lowest extent.

"Average sea ice thickness has been declining, so the stage is set for significant sea ice loss," he warned. "Reduced sea ice cover amplifies Earth's energy imbalance caused by rising greenhouse gases (GHGs)- GHGs reduce outgoing heat radiation, resulting in a net imbalance that heats the planet."

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