What’s Going On Here?
Last weekend saw heatwaves at both of the planet’s poles. Antarctic temperatures reached record levels, 40 degrees C above normal. During the same period, weather stations in the Arctic recorded temperatures 30 degrees C above normal for this time of year.
What Does This Mean?
It’s unprecedented for both poles to record such temperatures. The heatwaves have caused alarm among climate scientists, who have warned that the events could be a signal of faster climate breakdown. Higher temperatures at the poles means more polar ice melt. There is a risk this could rapidly become irreversible.
Climate change is disrupting the normal function of our Earth’s systems. One manifestation of this is extreme weather events like these polar heatwaves. Across the globe, extreme weather events are increasing in frequency and severity as witnessed in 2021.
Why Should We Care?
Acceleration of polar melt is not what we need. It leads to a positive feedback loop of more warming by altering the reflectivity of Earth’s surface. This is called albedo. Simply put, melting polar ice exposes more sea surface area, particularly in the Arctic. Sea is darker than ice and absorbs more heat, warming the planet (and the poles!) further.
For context, take a look at this amazing and shocking graphic from NASA, dubbed the climate spiral. It was designed by climate scientist Ed Hawkins from the National Centre for Atmospheric Science.
It shows just how rapidly the earth has warmed over the last few decades. It’s hard to imagine faster acceleration.
Learn more about albedo – Earth’s reflectivity – from the met office here
The poles are also a habitat for wildlife. Read how polar bears are impacted by climate change in the Arctic https://www.worldwildlife.org/pages/polar-bears-and-climate-change
Re(ice)cap on glacier retreat in the Antarctic in a curious.earth piece a few months ago https://curious.earth/blog/the-retreat-of-antarcticas-riskiest-glacier-thwaites/