Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

Help Support EcoWatch

South Pole Warming More Than 3x Faster Than Rest of Planet, Study Finds

The Amundsen–Scott South Pole Station, where the temperature readings informing the study were taken. Christopher Michel / CC BY 2.0

This year's record-breaking heat wave in Siberia has drawn attention to the fact that the climate crisis is warming the Arctic about twice as fast as the mid latitudes. But things are also heating up on the other side of Earth.

The South Pole — the most remote place on Earth — has heated more than three times faster than the global average over the last 30 years, a study published in Nature Climate Change Monday found.

"[It's] the ultimate canary in the coal mine," University of Colorado researcher Sharon E. Stammerjohn, who was not involved with the study but wrote a commentary on it, told The New York Times. "One that we can no longer ignore."

The researchers looked at 60 years of data from the South Pole and found that its average temperature had risen by more than 1.83 Celsius degrees since 1989, AFP reported. The pole is now warming at a rate of about 0.6 degrees Celsius per decade, compared with the global average of around 0.2 degrees Celsius.

"While temperatures were known to be warming across West Antarctica and the Antarctic Peninsula during the 20th century, the South Pole was cooling," lead study author and Victoria University of Wellington researcher Kyle Clem told AFP. "It was suspected that this part of Antarctica ... might be immune to/isolated from warming. We found this is not the case any more."

The warming can partly be explained by natural climate cycles. The warming trend at the South Pole began as sea-surface temperatures in the western tropical Pacific also rose as part of an oscillation with decades-long intervals. This tropical warming ultimately warmed the South Pole too, as The New York Times explained:

The warming ocean heated the air, which caused ripples of high and low pressure in the atmosphere that reached all the way to the Antarctic Peninsula, more than 5,000 miles away. Scientists call these kinds of long-distance links teleconnections.

Coupled with the stronger westerly winds, which are part of another long-term pattern, the ripples led to stronger storms in the Weddell Sea, east of the peninsula. These rotating, or cyclonic, storms, swept warmer air from the South Atlantic Ocean into the interior of the continent.

However, while the rapid South Pole warming could all be explained by natural variability, Clem said it was unlikely that it would have warmed so much without the burning of fossil fuels.

The researchers ran more than 200 climate models based on greenhouse gas concentrations recorded from 1989 to 2018 and found that these emissions likely caused one degree of the 1.8 degrees of warming recorded at the South Pole, Clem wrote for The Guardian. The researchers then ran models to see what 30-year temperature swings in the region would look like without greenhouse gas emissions and found that the warming they had detected was too much for 99.9 percent of them.

"It appears the effects from tropical variability have worked together with increasing greenhouse gases, and the end result is one of the strongest warming trends on the planet," Clem wrote.

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

The 2006 oil spill was the largest incident in Philippine history and damaged 1,600 acres of mangrove forests. Shubert Ciencia / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

By Jun N. Aguirre

An oil spill on July 3 threatens a mangrove forest on the Philippine island of Guimaras, an area only just recovering from the country's largest spill in 2006.

Read More Show Less
People visit Jacksonville Beach on July 4, 2020 in Jacksonville Beach, Florida. Public health experts have attributed Florida's growing coronavirus caseload to people gathering in crowds. Sam Greenwood / Getty Images

Florida broke the national record for the most new coronavirus cases reported in a single day on Sunday, with a total of 15,299.

Read More Show Less
Marco Bottigelli / Moment / Getty Images

By James Shulmeister

Climate Explained is a collaboration between The Conversation, Stuff and the New Zealand Science Media Centre to answer your questions about climate change.

If you have a question you'd like an expert to answer, please send it to climate.change@stuff.co.nz

Read More Show Less
Luxy Images / Getty Images

By Jo Harper

Investment in U.S. offshore wind projects are set to hit $78 billion (€69 billion) this decade, in contrast with an estimated $82 billion for U.S. offshore oil and gasoline projects, Wood Mackenzie data shows. This would be a remarkable feat only four years after the first offshore wind plant — the 30 megawatt (MW) Block Island Wind Farm off the coast of Rhode Island — started operating in U.S. waters.

Read More Show Less
Giacomo Berardi / Unsplash

The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed both the strengths and limitations of globalization. The crisis has made people aware of how industrialized food production can be, and just how far food can travel to get to the local supermarket. There are many benefits to this system, including low prices for consumers and larger, even global, markets for producers. But there are also costs — to the environment, workers, small farmers and to a region or individual nation's food security.

Read More Show Less

By Joe Leech

The human body comprises around 60% water.

It's commonly recommended that you drink eight 8-ounce (237-mL) glasses of water per day (the 8×8 rule).

Read More Show Less


By Michael Svoboda

The enduring pandemic will make conventional forms of travel difficult if not impossible this summer. As a result, many will consider virtual alternatives for their vacations, including one of the oldest forms of virtual reality – books.

Read More Show Less