Climate change can amplify heatwaves in Antarctic continent


Heatwave from February 6 to 11, 2020: on the left, geopotential anomalies at 500 mb (contours, in gpm), and temperature at 2 meters, with 99 percentile indication (discontinuous regions) and record values (dotted regions). Reference period: 1950-2019.

Heatwave from February 6 to 11, 2020: on the left, geopotential anomalies at 500 mb (contours, in gpm), and temperature at 2 meters, with 99 percentile indication (discontinuous regions) and record values (dotted regions). Reference period: 1950-2019.

Scientists from the Antarctic Group of the State Meteorological Agency —belonging to the Spanish Ministry for Ecological Transition and Demographical Challenge (MINECO)— and the University of Barcelona, the CSIC Institute of Geosciences and the University of Lisbon published the results of a recent study whose main conclusion confirms, for the first time, that climate change can amplify a heatwave in the Antarctic continent. More specifically, the paper concludes that the probability of undergoing a similar heatwave to the one from 2020 has increased by ten times since the 1950-1984 period, largely as a result of climate change.

Published in the journal Communications Earth & Environment, which belongs to Nature, and titled “Climate warning amplified the 2020 record-breaking heatwave in the Antarctic Peninsula”, the article is based on one of the most intense heatwaves ever recorded in the Antarctic Peninsula: the one that took place between February 6 and 11 in 2020.

Heatwaves are a 25% more intense

February 2020 was unusually warm in the Antarctic Peninsula. The heatwave that took place between the 6th and the 11th was one of the most intense ever recorded in the region: it showed anomalies in the average temperature of more than 4.5ºC and left a breaking record of temperatures in the peninsula on February 6, 2020, with records of 18.3ºC in the Esperanza base.

To quantify the role of climate change in the magnitude of this six-day regional heatwave, the researchers studied similar past episodes (1950-1984) and recent ones (1985-2019). The results showed that heatwaves similar to the 2020 one in the Antarctica Peninsula re now at least approximately 0.4ºC warmer than in the previous period, which represents an increase by 25% of their intensity. Moreover, they observed that the probability of experiencing average regional anomalies of 6 days over 2ºC has increased by ten times since 1950-1984. The changes in the atmospheric circulation recently experience in the area cannot explain the temperature rise during this event and therefore the study concludes by attributing responsibility to anthropogenic factors, that is, climate change.

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