For years Antarctica has been AWOL when it comes to continent-wide evidence of warming temperatures. Serious warming appeared limited to the Antarctic Peninsula, a mountainous finger of land jutting north toward South America.
No longer, if results from a new study hold up.
The continent is still bitingly frigid and largely a desert. The average annual temperature for the interior is -58 degrees Fahrenheit. Along the coast, it ranges from 5 to 14 degrees F.
But over the past 50 years, the continent as a whole has warmed (or grown less cold, if you like) by an average of 0.2 degrees F. per decade, according to a team led by Eric Steig, a geochemist at the University of Washington in Seattle. The pace is comparable to the rate of warming the southern hemisphere as a whole has undergone during that time, the team notes.
Warming usually seen on the Antarctic Peninsula now appears to extend across all of West Antarctica. The team estimated that temperatures on the peninsula have risen by 0.2 degrees F. per decade. West Antarctica has warmed at a rate of 0.3 degrees F. per decade. And East Antarctica has warmed at a 0.18 degrees F. per decade pace.
The team is a reluctant to unequivocally point a finger at human-triggered global warming just yet. A 50-year record is too short to allow researchers to sort out the relative contribution of human and natural influences to the trends they see at the bottom of the world.