An ice shelf in east Antarctica collapsed this month as temperatures reached the highest point in recorded history. The largest fragment of the Conger Ice Shelf, which is about the size of New York City, is now an iceberg, according to satellite imagery.
The event coincides with unprecedented heatwaves in the Arctic and Antarctica, although it is unclear whether the two are linked. Temperatures in the Dome C area of Antarctica reached -12°C this month (March), 40°C above the average for this time of year.
“The Antarctic climatology has been rewritten,” tweeted Stefano Di Battista, a researcher specialising in weather patterns in Antarctica.
Early evidence shows that the high temperatures were caused by a mass of warm air that travelled from southern Australia and reached deep into the centre of Antarctica. The warm air also caused rainfall far beyond the usual level expected in the continent's arid climate.
“It could have just been a freak weather event,” Will Hobbs of the Australian Antarctic Programme Partnership at the University of Tasmania told the Sydney Morning Herald. “But if this starts happening regularly, it would be seriously terrifying.”