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Weather: +40°c in Antarctica, what is this “atmospheric river” responsible for a heat stroke at the South Pole?

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Scientists present in Antarctica have been recording staggering temperatures of +40°C above normal for the season for several days. Unheard of in the history of the coldest continent in the world.

It is currently -11°C. If this temperature may seem freezing for our European standards, it is nevertheless far from seasonal norms in Antarctica. The coldest continent in the world should at this time be around -50°C with the end of the austral summer. A difference of nearly 40°C, a completely new phenomenon that worries scientists.

It was on March 18, as BFMTV reports, that the Franco-Italian Concordia research station, located at 3200 meters above sea level, recorded a peak of -11°C. A heat wave that reshuffles the climate cards in the region. “This phenomenon changes everything we thought we knew about the weather in Antarctica,” wrote Jonathan Wille, researcher at the Institute of Environmental Geosciences in Grenoble, on Twitter.

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Very glad to contribute to this article. This Antarctic heat wave definitely changes what we thought was possible for Antarctic weather https://t.co/uOESQfPGQN

—Dr. Jonathan Wille (@JonathanWille) March 19, 2022

A well-known atmospheric phenomenon

If it’s too much to talk about consequences of climate change at the South Pole with these temperatures, scientists know that this heat stroke is due to a climatic phenomenon: the atmospheric river.

The phenomenon is far from new, as already confirmed to us last December by the meteorologist of Météo France in charge of the Languedoc and Roussillon area Florence Vaysse. “It’s actually the literal translation of the English term Atmospheric river, which refers to moist air carried by a fast and rather straight current.”

This highway of steam and humid air carried at high altitudes, usually between 5000 and 8000 meters, causes a kind of heat dome due to greenhouse gases steam.

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Coming straight from New Zealand and Australia via the Southern Ocean, this atmospheric river “is probably unprecedented in its geographical extent, its inland extension, and its intensity”, laments Gaétan Haymes, forecasting engineer at Meteo France

If such phenomena often occur in an attenuated way on the coast, where they are at the origin of blizzards and a relative warming of temperatures, the recent event is probably unprecedented in its geographical scope, its extension towards the interior , and its intensity.

— Gaetan Heymes (@GaetanHeymes) March 21, 2022

The latter also specified that the French base of Dumont-d’Urville, located on the coast, had also recorded heat records: +4.9°C. That hadn’t happened since 1991. The poles are melting faster than elsewhere, that’s undeniable. Last February, the Antarctic sea ice had reached its smallest area on record since 1979.

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