by Zach Van Pelt
On February 6, 2020, the Esperanza Base on the northern tip of Antarctica recorded the highest ever temperature on the continent of 18.3 degrees Celsius. That’s nearly 65 degrees Fahrenheit. This is a worrisome sign as just days later, images of northern Antarctica showed a stretch of land nearly entirely devoid of ice and snow, as well as sections of ocean topped by little to no ice.
These sorts of temperatures used to occur naturally every thousand years or so, but as the human footprint has increased and global warming comes to be an international problem, these temperatures have become more and more common, now occurring by the decade according to Ricardo Jana. Jana is a glacial scientist for the Chilean Antarctic Institute. “I think that’s the consequence of the global climate change,” she said. Antarctica holds 90% of all Earth’s ice. If it were to melt, that would be 70% of the world’s fresh water released into the ocean at once. This is enough to drastically change some coastlines.
One study found that in the 1980s, Antarctica lost about 40 gigatons of ice per year. Over the last decade, that number has increased to 252 gigatons per year. Due to all of this melting ice, global sea levels have risen roughly 14 millimeters since 1979. This is more than six times the amount of ice melting in just four decades. Despite this concerning spike in temperatures and melting ice, snow is still falling in Antarctica. More recent findings show that some glaciers, including Pine Island and Thwaites, may have reached the point of no return where their loss is irreversible. This is a concern, because Thwaites holds back a large portion of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet. If the glacier were to melt, which looks more and more likely with each passing year, it could release enough ice to cause a significant rise in sea levels.