Picture this: It’s 20 degrees Celcius. You’re comfortably rocking a light denim jacket. You’re sipping a gin and tonic. You’ve got a picnic blanket and a spread of raw veggies and dips. The wind is in your hair. So nice to be in… the Antarctic.
Seriously, it’s straight up balmy in Antarctica right now. On Sunday, Seymour Island – a chain of islands off the Antarctic Peninsula – registered a temperature of 20.75 degrees Celsius, or about 68 degrees Fahrenheit, for the first time on record. That’s almost a full degree higher than the area’s previous record of 19.8 degrees Celsius (67.6 degrees Fahrenheit).
“We are seeing the warming trend in many of the sites we are monitoring, but we have never seen anything like this,” Carlos Schaefer, a Brazilian government scientist who studies the Antarctic, told the Guardian, which first reported the story.
The Brazilian scientists who logged the temperature will need to get confirmation from the World Meteorological Organization to make the record official, but unfortunately, 20 degrees Celcius seems consistent with the warming trends of Seymour Island. The peninsula the island sits off of is one of the fastest warming areas in the world. Though on average Earth has warmed up by roughly 1 degree Celsius (1.8 degrees Fahrenheit) since the pre-industrial times, the Antarctic Peninsula has warmed by 5.4 degrees F in just the last 50 years. Thanks, fossil fuel industry.
The new record was set just two days after a temperature of 18.3 degrees Celsius (64.9 degrees Fahrenheit), was recorded on the continent Antarctica, breaking the previous record set in 2015.
These rising temperatures are contributing to the rapid ice loss in Antarctica, which is the world’s largest stash of ice. Warming waters pose the biggest threat to the ice shelves that float out into the sea. But with air temperatures rising, surface melt is becoming a bigger concern, too.
All that melting ice is bad news for creatures (like penguins!) and ecosystems that depend on sea ice to survive. It’s also bad news for us humans, because when land ice melts, it pushes up sea levels. The West Antarctic – the most imperiled region on the icy continent – has enough ice to raise sea levels 10 feet. That would be devastating for many coastal cities. If all the ice in the Antarctic were to melt, our oceans would rise some 200 feet. Though it’s not imminent, we should probably stop emitting greenhouse gases just to make sure we don’t find out what that would look like.