NASA satellite captures Antarctica melting during heat wave

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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.
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This satellite image from Feb. 13 shows extensive melting of the the ice cap on Eagle Island in Antarctica.

Joshua Stevens/Landsat data from the USGS/GEOS-5 data/NASA GSFC

Antarctica, home to the coldest place on Earth, experienced a worrying heat wave earlier in February, possibly even setting a record high temperature for the normally frigid continent. A NASA satellite has taken stock of what that heat meant to the local ice cap and glaciers.

NASA's Earth Observatory released two images from the agency's Landsat 8 satellite. They highlight dramatic changes in the ice and snow along the northern tip of the Antarctic peninsula. 

A close-up look at Eagle Island on Feb. 4 showed plenty of snow coverage. A follow-up view from Feb. 13 revealed bright-blue melt ponds and exposed ground.

Enlarge Image

This satellite image shows Eagle Island in Antarctica on Feb. 4, prior to the heat wave.

Joshua Stevens/Landsat data from the USGS/GEOS-5 data/NASA GSFC

"I haven't seen melt ponds develop this quickly in Antarctica," said Mauri Pelto, a glaciologist at Nichols College in Massachusetts, in a NASA post on Friday.

Eagle Island isn't far from Argentina's Esperanza research base where a record high temperature was logged Feb. 6.  

World Meteorological Organization committee is working to verify the record temperature reading, but the results of the warm spell are easy to spot in the satellite views. The heat wave liquefied around 20% of Eagle Island's seasonal snow accumulation in a matter of days.

The heat and related meltwater formation is part of a pattern. "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."  

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