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See record-high temperatures strip Antarctica of huge amounts of ice

Antarctica's Eagle Island on Feb. 4 and Feb. 13, 2020.
Antarctica's Eagle Island on Feb. 4 and Feb. 13, 2020.
(Image: © NASA Earth Observatory)

It's easy to forget that Antarctica is technically a desert, until you see it without snow.

A new pair of satellite images shared by NASA's Earth Observatory makes that stark reality clear as ice. NASA's Landsat-8 satellite snapped the two images of Eagle Island (a small island off Antarctica's northwest tip) on Feb. 4 and Feb. 13, 2020, bookending a period of record high temperatures in the southernmost continent. Between the two images, a significant amount of the island's glacial ice disappeared, revealing huge swaths of the barren brown rock underneath.

According to glaciologist Mauri Pelto, a professor of environmental science at Nichols College in Massachusetts, the island lost about 20% of its seasonal snow accumulation in just a few days.

"You see these kinds of melt events in Alaska and Greenland, but not usually in Antarctica," Pelto told NASA.

Related: One of Antarctica's fastest-shrinking glaciers just lost an iceberg twice the size of Washington, D.C.

The melt coincided with not one, but two record-high temperatures recorded on Antarctica this month. On Feb. 6, a research station on the northern edge of the Antarctic Peninsula (the finger of land on the continent's northwest tip, closest to South America) recorded a new record-high temperature of 64.9 degrees Fahrenheit (18.3 degrees Celsius) — surpassing the previous record of 63.5 F (17.5 C), set in March 2015. 

Days later, on Feb. 9, researchers on the nearby Seymour Island saw their thermometers hit 69.35 F (20.75 C), setting another all-time high for the continent. (For comparison, that's about the same temperature reported in Los Angeles, on the same day. Balmy!)

As the new images show, those high temperatures caused significant melting on nearby glaciers. According to Pelto, Eagle Island lost nearly 1 square mile (1.5 square kilometers) of snowpack to the heat, creating several large ponds of bright blue meltwater at the island's center. 

While every season has its highs, this summer has been especially warm for Antarctica, Pelto said. The continent has already seen two heatwaves this season — one in November 2019 and one in January 2020 — reminding us that significant melt events like these are becoming more common as global warming continues unchecked. 

Originally published on Live Science. 

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  • Lucille
    Noted the pictures taken on February 4 and 13, but where are the pictures taken on 22nd?
    Reply
  • Andy
    Eagle Island is not in Antarctica, and the temps went back to freezing long ago. Esperanza base 31 f
    Reply
  • msshe
    Andy said:
    Eagle Island is not in Antarctica, and the temps went back to freezing long ago. Esperanza base 31 f
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eagle_Island,_Antarctica
    Reply
  • Alex
    The actual information presented in the article wasn't nearly as sinister as the title of the article. But I suppose no one would click on the appropriately named article of, "Snow falls, later melts".

    Fish away.
    Reply
  • James DeMeo
    A teeny tiny tip of the lowest-warmest latitude of Antarctica melts a bit of its snow in its summer period, and all the chicken littles run around "the sky is falling! the sky is falling!" Why wrote this? Little Greta? Al Gore? Does LiveScience think its readers are all imbeciles, to be so easily persuaded?
    Reply
  • Etherair
    Sure it is an anomaly, just a tiny island setting new records of heat for that latitude. Ignore it, just like the rest of the world, a warm season or two is nothing to worry about.
    Or four or five seasons.
    Or forty or fifty seasons.
    Really, ignore the data, pretend learning is fiction.
    The warmer summers happening for the last fifty years are just coincidence that fear mongers are adding more data points to. All the data indicates to a problem with a warming planet, therefore, it must be a hoax. If it was real there would be conflicting evidence. Since all the evidence agrees without any counter explanations it must be a lie, nature would never be so obvious.
    Myself and my adult children all live away from large population centers and closer to the rural farming areas. Famine and disease will be far more devastating where large volumes of hungry people will be dying when the infrastructure collapses. Educated folks are standing round eyed in disbelief at the response to the crisis.

    Hate to keep beating the same drum, but the tipping point is long ago in our past and the longer we pretend the closer to random any single survival story will be.
    Reply
  • Knowledge is power
    Etherair said:
    Sure it is an anomaly, just a tiny island setting new records of heat for that latitude. Ignore it, just like the rest of the world, a warm season or two is nothing to worry about.
    Or four or five seasons.
    Or forty or fifty seasons.
    Really, ignore the data, pretend learning is fiction.
    The warmer summers happening for the last fifty years are just coincidence that fear mongers are adding more data points to. All the data indicates to a problem with a warming planet, therefore, it must be a hoax. If it was real there would be conflicting evidence. Since all the evidence agrees without any counter explanations it must be a lie, nature would never be so obvious.
    Myself and my adult children all live away from large population centers and closer to the rural farming areas. Famine and disease will be far more devastating where large volumes of hungry people will be dying when the infrastructure collapses. Educated folks are standing round eyed in disbelief at the response to the crisis.

    Hate to keep beating the same drum, but the tipping point is long ago in our past and the longer we pretend the closer to random any single survival story will be.
    I live in Dubai and year on year the summers are cooler, I work outside a lot and drive everyday so check the temp gauge various times a day. I honestly think there is so much more to the subtle climate changes we currently experience. The carbon sector is huge and another massive financial income to many. We don't seem to be able to convince the biggest polluters to change their ways, yet barely any company actually plant trees.. why not?
    Reply
  • James DeMeo
    Etherair said:
    Sure it is an anomaly, just a tiny island setting new records of heat for that latitude. Ignore it, just like the rest of the world, a warm season or two is nothing to worry about.
    Or four or five seasons.
    Or forty or fifty seasons.
    Really, ignore the data, pretend learning is fiction.
    The warmer summers happening for the last fifty years are just coincidence that fear mongers are adding more data points to. All the data indicates to a problem with a warming planet, therefore, it must be a hoax. If it was real there would be conflicting evidence. Since all the evidence agrees without any counter explanations it must be a lie, nature would never be so obvious.
    Myself and my adult children all live away from large population centers and closer to the rural farming areas. Famine and disease will be far more devastating where large volumes of hungry people will be dying when the infrastructure collapses. Educated folks are standing round eyed in disbelief at the response to the crisis.

    Hate to keep beating the same drum, but the tipping point is long ago in our past and the longer we pretend the closer to random any single survival story will be.

    Sorry, you express a belief system, not an opinion founded upon scientifically demonstrated facts. Most all I know who object to the CO2 theory of global warming (that's what it was called before the "climate change" phrase was substituted, so it could explain everything) admit to a slight warming, but also that it is not a looming catastrope, nor that CO2 is the driving mechanism. We had the Minoan, Roman and Medieval Warm Periods, then the Little Ice Age between the last of those warmings and today. And the MWP was warmer than today, as documented in old whaling ship log books (they sailed into an ice-free Arctic), exposure of hiking trails with discarded Medieval objects on high Alpine passes, just within recent years, the Viking colonies in Greenland that even today are uninhabitable, and many similar things. And of course all the information on the bitter cold times of the LIA, out of which Earth began the current warming trend. NONE of the proxy data used to argue for a uniquely modern warming (the discredited "hockey stick") is defendable science, and so most of it remains concealed and hidden. The advocates of that graphic as "proof" already unmasked as unethical cut-throat totalitarians in the "Climate-Gate Memos". They are required reading, along with the research of Macintyre and McKittrick on the Mann, et al claims. By news reports, the lawsuit Mann made against Tim Ball for daring to criticize him was tossed out of court as Mann would not make his data public. And so on, and so on. It is a crooked theory, aiming for "green" socialist-communist agendas also, along with greedy Wall-Street cap and trade schemes. Wise up, stop preaching the Gore-Greta "end of the world" "tipping point" BS, it reminds me of the Y2K or "2012" hysterics, an other failed predictions of global doom. Ignore historical climatology if you wish, but the facts are not on your side. Our Sun, a variable star, still governs Earth's cyclical climatology.
    Reply
  • Tim
    So glaciers melt in just a few days? don't think so. A few inches of snow would melt, but certainly not glaciers.
    Reply
  • dstemont
    Good, maybe Antarctica will turn back into a tropical jungle as it was many, many, many years ago.
    Reply