By Robin Gomes
A temperature recorded at an Argentine base on the northern tip of Antarctica could be a record high for the frozen continent, the United Nations weather agency has warned.
Clare Nullis, the spokeswoman of the UN’s World Meteorological Organization (WMO), told journalists in Geneva on Friday that a reading taken on February 6 by Argentina's National Meteorological Service (SMN) at the Esperanza research base, hit nearly 18.3° C (64.9° F).
The previous record of 17.5°C was set in 2015.
The WMO 's committee that draws on the agency's weather and climate archives is now expected to verify whether the reading would amount to a new record for the Antarctic continent, which is defined as the main continental landmass.
The point where the temperature was taken should not be confused with the Antarctic region, which is everywhere south of 60 degrees latitude, and where a record temperature of 19.8C was recorded on Signy Island in January 1982.
“Everything we have seen thus far indicates a likely legitimate record but we will, of course, begin a formal evaluation of the record once we have full data from the SMN and on the meteorological conditions surrounding the event," said WMO’s Weather and Climate Extremes rapporteur, Randal Cerveny.
"The record appears to be likely associated (in the short term) with what we call a regional ‘foehn’ event over the area," Cerveny said, defining it as a rapid warming of air coming down a slope or mountain.
Referring to Antarctica, Nullis said, “It’s among the fastest-warming regions of the planet.” “We hear a lot about the Arctic, but this particular part of the Antarctic peninsula is warming very quickly. Over the past 50 years, it’s warmed almost 3°C.”
Amid steadily warming temperatures, she also noted that the amount of ice lost annually from the Antarctic ice sheet “increased at least six-fold between 1979 and 2017”.
Climate change is heating up Antarctica and the Arctic - the Earth's polar regions - faster than other regions of the planet.
In a key report last September from the highly respected UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), researchers warned that hundreds of millions of people are at risk from melting ice in the planet’s polar regions, linked to sea-level rise.
The Arctic is warming more than twice as fast as the rest of the globe, according to an annual report published in December by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. There is no similar yearly report for Antarctica. (Source: UN, AP)