Polar Heat Wave Oddity

By: Jake Sheckter  |  April 6, 2022

By Jake Sheckter, Business Editor

Climate change is an ever-gloomy term that sits in the back of much of our generations’ minds. The apparent changes in our climate are certainly on the minds of more people than ever before, especially when planning for the long-term. Members of the younger generations (Millennials, Gen Z, etc.) are now battling worries unique to them alone, asking themselves: will the planet last long enough for my children or grandchildren? What will the Earth look like in 100, 200, or even 300 years if the human population doesn’t destroy it before then? Unfortunately, even with these daunting thoughts, it feels futile. 

As anyone who does even a little research knows, there is not much one can do individually. In fact, 100 companies have contributed to roughly 70% of greenhouse gasses since 1988, according to a study by the Business and Human Rights Resource Center. The total amount that an individual person, like you and I, is responsible for results in less than half of the impending increase in temperature and storm volatility on Earth. Nonetheless, it can be difficult to hear of disastrous changes to the climate. Just in the last few weeks, there has been an abnormal development in the temperature at the polar ice caps. And honestly, I was absolutely shocked that no one else was talking about it, considering its effects on the whole world.

An unprecedented heat wave has struck both Antarctica and the Arctic, shocking scientists and further signifying the alarming effects of climate change on Earth. In mid-March, 2022, Antarctica soared 70 degrees Fahrenheit (21 degrees Celsius) above normal temperatures. For the first time in 65 years the temperature exceeded -22 degrees Fahrenheit. While few have had the luxury of being blissfully unaware (or ignorant) of the recent melting of the polar ice caps, this drastic jump in temperature signifies a much larger and shocking battle to keep the Earth’s natural climate intact. 

Climate change is caused by greenhouse gas emissions, the largest gas being carbon dioxide. As humans contribute more greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere, they collect to create a “blanket” of sorts and disrupt the Earth’s natural Ozone layer, as well as heating up the Earth by trapping heat in. “From 1990 to 2019, the total warming effect from greenhouse gasses added by humans to the Earth’s atmosphere increased by 45 percent,” according to the United States Environmental Protection Agency

Two miles above sea level sits Concordia Station, a French-Italian Research Facility in Antarctica, where the record-breaking temperatures were recently recorded. At this time of year, the poles are entering opposing seasons; the Arctic (or North Pole) is slowly emerging from winter as Antarctica (the South Pole) is supposed to be rapidly dropping in temperature. The two poles are melting together, a shocking event that we have never witnessed before. While unprecedented, the rising temperatures were not unforeseen. Last year, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned that there were irreversible meltings of the polar ice caps on the horizon. On December 6, 2021, a journal by the “Geophysical Research Letters” stated that “[the] Arctic heat waves are becoming more frequent, long-lasting and widespread.” It seems that both were right.  

How did this heat wave happen? The North Pole’s rising temperatures can be chalked up to the ending of winter and the predicted effects of the rising climate that are to happen as Summer begins. Not to say that the temperatures are normal, but the explanation is much simpler and easily predicted than that of the South Pole. 

Antarctica is experiencing what is called an “atmospheric river” that was trapped within a “heat dome.” An atmospheric river is exactly what it sounds like, a narrow stream of water vapor that moves through the atmosphere. Scientists who observed the changing of the climate predict that moisture encapsulated in Antarctica was pressurized and trapped in this atmospheric river, causing the air to heat up. This phenomenon is known as a heat dome. Arctic amplification is another factor possibly causing the temperatures at the poles to heat up. Arctic amplification is the speed at which the impact of climate change is felt on the poles – currently residing at two to three times the speed of the rest of the globe. What us Americans (or Canadians in my case) are feeling in terms of rising temperatures and volatile climates nowadays, the poles are experiencing two to three times as severe. 

This heatwave is on track to set off a domino-like effect with the rising sea levels and rapid reduction of our critical ice caps. An onset of additional heatwaves are predicted to occur in the poles. This leaves us wondering: what’s next and what are we willing to do about it?