South Pole Warming Three Times the Global Rate

The Amundsen–Scott South Pole Station.

The Amundsen–Scott South Pole Station. Christopher Michel / Wikimedia Commons

The South Pole has warmed at a rate three times the global average over the last three decades, according to a new study in the journal Nature Climate Change. Temperatures at the Amundsen-Scott research station in Antarctica rose by 1.8 degrees Celsius between 1989 and 2018. For comparison, global temperatures rose a total 0.5 to 0.6 degrees C during the same 30-year period.

The research, led by scientists at Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand, determined the warming at the South Pole, a rate of 0.61 degree C per decade, was driven by both natural climate variability — warm ocean temperatures in the western tropical Pacific Ocean — and anthropogenic warming driven by rising greenhouse gas emissions.

“Research over the past couple decades revealed the Antarctic plateau, the coldest and one of the most remote places on Earth, had been cooling while global temperatures were increasing,” Kyle Clem, a polar scientist and lead author of the new study, told Carbon Brief. “Our study has found that this is no longer the case. The South Pole is now one of the fastest warming regions on the planet, warming at an incredible three times faster than the global average rate.”

The South Pole is still very cold – temperatures generally range from -50 to -20 degrees C. But researchers say that the findings point to how even the most remote parts of Antarctica are starting to feel the impacts of climate change. “An area of the planet that we felt was very isolated is actually not as isolated as we thought,” Alexandra Isern, head of Antarctic research for the U.S. National Science Foundation who was not involved in the study, told Reuters.

Standardized annual mean temperatures at the South Pole from 1957-2018. Data source: Clem et al. (2020).

Standardized annual mean temperatures at the South Pole from 1957-2018. Data source: Clem et al. (2020). Chart by Carbon Brief using Highcharts