Scientists record 1st ever heat wave at research base in East Antarctica

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An ice shelf is seen from the deck of the Russian oceanographic research vessel Admiral Vladimirsky during an expedition to the shores of Antarctica. (Alexey Kudenko / Sputnik via AP

An ice shelf is seen from the deck of the Russian oceanographic research vessel Admiral Vladimirsky during an expedition to the shores of Antarctica. (Alexey Kudenko / Sputnik via AP

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Climate scientists have recorded the first heat wave at a research base in East Antarctica, warning that such “unprecedented” temperatures could impact animals and plantlife in the region.

Researchers from the Australian Antarctic Program recorded the heat wave at the Casey Research Station — located on the northern part of Bailey Peninsula on the Budd Coast — between 23 and 26 January, which falls in the region’s summer season.

Over the course of the three days, experts found the area to be experiencing “its highest temperature ever,” recording a record of 9.2 degrees Celsius (48.6 degrees Fahrenheit) at Casey on 24 January.

During the three days, minimum temperatures climbed above zero, and maximum temperatures reached above 7.5 degrees Celsius (45.5 degrees Fahrenheit).

“Heatwaves are classified as three consecutive days with both extreme maximum and minimum temperatures,” biologist Dr Sharon Robinson said in the research, which was published in Global Change Biology journal Tuesday.

Scientists say that temperatures above zero accelerate ice melt. The Antarctic region is heating up rapidly due to heat-trapping gas pollution from humans. Warming observed in the area has serious global consequences, especially for the millions of people living on the world’s coasts who are vulnerable to sea level rise.

Antarctic ecologist Dr Dana Bergstrom warned the warm summer could result in long term disruption to local populations, communities, and pose a threat to the broader ecosystem.

“Most life exists in small ice-free oases in Antarctica, and largely depends on melting snow and ice for their water supply,” Bergstrom said.

“Melt water flooding can provide additional water to these desert ecosystems, leading to increased growth and reproduction of mosses, lichens, microbes and invertebrates.

“However excessive flooding can dislodge plants and alter the composition of communities of invertebrates and microbial mats,” she said.

“If the ice melts completely, early in the season, then ecosystems will suffer drought for the rest of the season,” Bergstrom warned.

Record temperatures have been documented across Antarctica during the continent’s summer season.

In February, scientists at Argentina’s Esperanza research station recorded temperatures of nearly 18.3 degrees Celsius (65 degrees Fahrenheit) on Antarctica’s northern tip — at the time the hottest temperature ever recorded in Antarctica.

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