Soaring temperatures in the Antarctic may be the "canary in the coalmine" of what's to come for the rest of the world, according to one climate scientist.
Parts of the Antarctic saw temperatures more than 40 degrees higher than normal for three consecutive days last week, a warming event that 1News meteorologist Dan Corbett says is "literally off the scale".
"It is just staggering and it’s frightening."
Victoria University professor and climatologist Tim Naish agrees, describing it as "unprecedented".
“It’s pretty clear this is an extreme atmospheric event. It’s a source of moisture that’s come from South Australia and ultimately from the subtropics in what we call an ‘atmospheric river’,” he explained to Q+A’s Jack Tame.
“We’ve had this plume of warm, moist air come south and penetrate well into east Antarctica – one of the coldest places on earth.”
Naish says that while he’s reluctant to attribute the recent high temperatures directly to climate change, they could be “the canary in the coalmine of things to come".
“We’re seeing extreme events happening with much more frequency around the world. Wildfires, droughts, floods and this is an extreme event that we’ve seen with the background of climate change in Antarctica.
“So yes, we would expect more to come as the world is warming.”
He says while it’s too soon to tell what the effects on the Antarctic will be, similar levels of warming in the Arctic are a good indicator.
“Our models suggest that the Antarctic always follows a little bit behind [the Arctic] and that’s largely because Antarctica is a big ice block.
“If it all melted we would get 50 to 60 metres of sea level rise but up until now it’s been relatively protected by the deep cold of the Southern Ocean.”
Naish says one of the consequences of the soaring temperatures was the destruction of an ice shelf the size of the US city of Los Angeles.
And that’s just the beginning as far as he’s concerned, suggesting surface warming on this scale could be the first real event that shows the extent of which humans are contributing to global warming.
However, he believes there is still time and still cause for hope that the worst effects of climate change can be prevented.
“We’re seeing right now how the world can get in behind a major military conflict in the Ukraine. We’ve seen how the world can join together to address a global crisis like Covid.”