A record breaking heatwave burning through Antarctica, which at one point hit an incredible 64.9 degrees Fahrenheit, has caused dramatic ice melt in the region. NASA has released satellite photos showing the extent of the melt. NASA's Earth Observatory released two new images Friday by the Operational Land Imager on Landsat 8 that show the difference on the Eagle Island ice cap between February 4 and February 13.
"I haven't seen melt ponds develop this quickly in Antarctica," Mauri Pelto, a glaciologist at Nichols College in Massachusetts, said in a NASA press release Friday. "You see these kinds of melt events in Alaska and Greenland, but not usually in Antarctica."
According to Pelto, this kind of rapid melting can only be caused by sustained temperatures that remain significantly above freezing. This was an almost-unheard-of phenomenon in Antarctica until the 21st century, but it has become more common in recent years.
Eagle Island, the site photographed in the satellite images, is only about 25 miles from Argentina's Esperanza research base, which recorded the potentially record-high temperature of 64.9 on February 6. According to NASA climate models, the island experienced peak melt of about 1 inch on that same day, leading to a loss of 4 inches total in a one-week period. The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) is still working to verify the record temperature, but the agency declared that the Antarctic Peninsula one of the fastest warming regions on Earth. It is heating up at a rate that's five times the rate of the rest of the planet.
"If you think about this one event in February, it isn't that significant," said Pelto. "It's more significant that these events are coming more frequently."