Antarctica may have set a disturbing new record high temperature

The World Meteorological Organization is working to verify the reading.

Amanda Kooser
Freelance writer Amanda C. Kooser covers gadgets and tech news with a twist for CNET. When not wallowing in weird gear and iPad apps for cats, she can be found tinkering with her 1956 DeSoto.
Amanda Kooser

NASA's Operation IceBridge snapped this view of Mt. Balfour in Antarctica in 2016.

NASA/Joe MacGregor

The planet continues to set new climate-change-fueled warming records after a toasty 2019. This time the heat is on in Antarctica, the continent we usually think of as the coldest place on Earth.

Argentina's national meteorological service (SMN) reported a possible record-high temperature reading of 65 degrees Fahrenheit (18.3 degrees Celsius) on Feb. 6 taken at the Esperanza research base on the northern edge of the Antarctic peninsula. 

If the reading holds, then it would set a new historical record for the Antarctic continent with data reaching back to 1961. The previous record of 63.5 degrees F (17.5 degrees C) was set in March 2015, according to SMN.

A World Meteorological Organization (WMO) committee is working on verifying the reading. "Everything we have seen thus far indicates a likely legitimate record but we will of course begin a formal evaluation of the record once we have full data from SMN and on the meteorological conditions surrounding the event," said WMO's Randall Cerveny in a statement on Friday.

The high temperature may have been associated with a regional blast of warm air. 

WMO described the Antarctic peninsula as "among the fastest warming regions of the planet." This trend has triggered ice loss and is feeding into global sea level rise.

The SMN temperature reading may end up joining a grim parade of record highs set in recent years. It's odd to imagine the Antarctic and the term "t-shirt weather" going together.

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