Climate Change

Antarctica island loses 20% ice in 10 days, NASA images show

Scientists attribute the warm spell to climate change, dry winds

Last Updated: Tuesday 25 February 2020

Antarctica, earth’s coldest continent, experienced a dramatic warm spell in February. One of its islands, the Eagle Island, lost 20 per cent of its ice in 10 days, according to a new pair of images captured by National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA) Landsat-8 satellite.

The images were released by NASA’s Earth Observatory. They showed the island — with major pond-like formations on its snowpack — on February 4, 2020 and February 13, 2020.

These images, when compared by experts, showed that mercury peaked to 18.3 degrees Celsius in the Antarctic Peninsula on February 6. This surpassed the previous record of 17.5°C, set in March 2015, according to NASA data.

On February 9, researchers on the nearby Seymour Island saw their thermometers hit 20.75°C, setting another all-time high for the continent.

Strong ‘foehn’ winds — which are dry and warm — also contributed to the melting of ice, according to NASA Earth Observatory.

The Eagle Island is off the Graham Land of the Antarctic Peninsula. According to climate models, three centimetres (cm) of ice on the island melted on February 6, 2020. A total of 10.6 cm — which is about 20 per cent of the island's seasonal snow accumulation — has melted so far.

Mauri Pelto, a glaciologist at Nichols College in Massachusetts, said the heat wave has melted the island’s 1.5 sq km ice, according to NASA Earth Observatory.

February, 2020’s heat represents a worrying pattern — it is the third warm spell to hit the peninsula after heat waves of November 2019 and January 2020.

Scientists have attributed the rising temperatures to climate change. Melting down of huge amount of ice can lead to rising sea water levels, causing floods and disruption of marine ecosystem.

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