The South Pole is Warming 3 Times Faster Than the Global Average

Researchers suggest human-made climate change may have played a role.

south pole station researchers
Researchers at the South Pole station in Antarctica.


 NOAA Photo Library [(CC BY 2.0)] / Flickr

The South Pole has been warming more than three times faster than the global average over the past 30 years, according to a new study.

Researchers argue that it’s unlikely these warming trends are the result of natural climate change alone, suggesting that human-made climate change appears to have played a part. The study was published in the journal Nature Climate Change.

The pole, the most isolated spot on Earth, is located deep in Antarctica. Average temperatures range from -60 degrees C (-76 F) during winter to -20 C (-4 F) in summer. Researchers found that between 1989 and 2018, the South Pole warmed by about 1.8 degrees C at a rate of about 0.6 degrees C per decade. That was three times the global average.

Researchers have been aware for years that coastal areas of Antarctica are warming and losing sea ice, but they had thought that the South Pole was isolated and protected from rising climate temperatures.

"This highlights that global warming is global and it's making its way to these remote places," Kyle Clem, postdoctoral research fellow in Climate Science at the University of Wellington, and lead author of the study, told CNN.

For the study, Clem and his team analyzed weather data and used climate model simulations. They found that the main cause of the rising temperatures was changes in ocean surface temperatures in the western tropical Pacific Ocean.

"It is wild. It is the most remote place on the planet. The significance is how extreme temperatures swing and shift over the Antarctic interior, and the mechanisms that drive them are linked 10,000 kilometers (6,200 miles) north of the continent on the tropical Pacific," Clem said.

Blaming Climate Change

In the early decades after 1957, when measurements were first recorded at the South Pole, average temperatures remained steady or declined. Near the end of the 20th century, temperatures began to rise.

In their models, the researchers compared the recent warming rate to all possible 30-year temperature trends that could happen naturally without human influence. They found that the 1.8 degrees of warming was higher than 99.9% of all possible trends without human influence — meaning the recent warming is “extremely unlikely under natural conditions, albeit not impossible,” Clem says.

“The temperature variability at the South Pole is so extreme it currently masks human-caused effects,” Clem writes in The Guardian. “The Antarctic interior is one of the few places left on Earth where human-caused warming cannot be precisely determined, which means it is a challenge to say whether, or for how long, the warming will continue.”