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60-Second Earth

Coldest Continent Warming, Too

Despite cooling in some regions, overall Antarctic temperatures are increasing. David Biello reports

[Below is the original script. But a few changes may have been made during the recording of this audio podcast.]

Of the seven continents, only one has not shown a consistent warming in recent decades: Antarctica. But that's been largely thanks to a lack of long-term, reliable temperature records.

Now scientists have combined weather station records with satellite measurements to find that the frozen continent is indeed warming, according to research published in the scientific journal Nature

Study author Eric Steig is a geochemist at the University of Washington: "What we found, in a nutshell, is that Antarctica is not cooling. … On average, the entire continent is warming and especially, it is warming in winter and spring." 

In fact, Steig and his colleagues found that western Antarctica has warmed by as much as one degree Celsius since 1957. And even the extra cooling of eastern Antarctica by the ozone hole has not stopped the overall trend. 

To be sure, the ice-sheathed continent is bathed in cold by fierce circumpolar winds and other climate factors and the lands east of the Transantarctic Mountains are getting even colder.  

But this new research and other recent studies reveal that this cooling is outpaced by the heating of the western Antarctic

As a whole, the continent at the bottom of the Earth has warmed by roughly half a degree Celsius in the last 50 years—cold comfort for climatologists.

—David Biello

60-Second Earth is a weekly podcast from Scientific American. Subscribe to this Podcast: RSS | iTunes

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