Gone with the Heat

It is the mirror of the health of our planet. And it’s not healthy at all

Antarctica is one of the most pristine places on the planet. This gigantic region of the southern hemisphere – which contains about 90% of the ice and 70% of the world’s fresh water – plays a crucial role for the Earth’s climate and marine ecosystems: the Antarctic ocean absorbs 75% of the excess global heat and almost a third of the CO2 emissions captured by the seas around the world.

Today, the ice continent is at risk. Climate change is causing visible impacts on the region’s biodiversity and potentially irreversible and devastating impacts on the entire planet.
Over the past 30 years, Antarctica’s temperature has risen by 1.8°C, three times the global average. In 2020, the continent registered a new record temperature of 18.3°C. As a main effect, sea ice has declined rapidly. But in Antarctica, rising levels of greenhouse gases and a shrinking ozone hole could result in temperatures rising by as much as 3°C over the next century. If this happens, the resulting melting of the West Antarctic ice sheet will contribute to a rise in sea levels that is expected to reach 1.4 meters by 2100.

There are already troubling signs. In March 2022, an “atmospheric river” (a stream of water vapor from the tropics) flowed into East Antarctica, causing temperatures up to 40°C above the annual average over the same period. As a result, there was a breakup of the Conger Ice Shelf, which released a block of ice nearly 1,200 square kilometers in size, slightly smaller than the surface area of Rome, into the ocean.

The Antarctic Treaty, stipulated in Washington in 1959, and to which 53 countries adhere, establishes that the continent of ice can be used exclusively for peaceful purposes and scientific research, preventing any form of commercial exploitation, territorial claim or military activity. However, some countries adhering to the Treaty, such as China and Russia, which heavily exploit the fish resources of the continent, seem to want to hinder projects to create new marine protected areas in order to preserve the Antarctic ecosystem and, with it, the future of the Earth.

( 2022 )