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Is Antarctica Getting Warmer?

September 8, 2013

By Paul Homewood



We often hear claims that the Antarctic is getting warmer, but what do the numbers tell us?

A study in 2002, by Peter Doran and others, “Antarctic climate cooling and terrestrial ecosystem response” looked at temperatures between 1966 and 2000, and was pretty conclusive:

Although previous reports suggest slight recent continental warming, our spatial analysis of Antarctic meteorological data demonstrates a net cooling on the Antarctic continent between 1966 and 2000


And in 2006, a paper by George Taylor, State Climatologist for Oregon, came to similar conclusions, finding:

Numerous journal articles have reported on studies of temperature trends in Antarctica, with  a remarkably consistent conclusion…….

Whereas climate models suggest that temperatures in Antarctica should have been warming in recent decades in response to increases in greenhouse gases, measurements show otherwise. Although some regions do show increases, the majority of the continent shows no significant trend or an actual decrease. There is evidence  that atmospheric and  ocean circulation patterns have much stronger impacts on Antarctic climate than do greenhouse gas increases.


So what has been happening in the last few years, since these papers were published?


The Taylor research uses eight stations in Antarctica to track temperatures. Of these, only six have up to date records. (The two missing stations, Rothera and Scott Base are close to Faraday and McMurdo, which are still in the analysis. Therefore, their exclusion should not have any tangible effect.)

The table below compares the annual temperatures for 2012 from the GISS records with the 1981-2010 mean.


Station Location 2012 Mean Temperature Centigrade 1981-2010 Mean Temperature Centigrade Difference
Amundsen-Scott 90 S, 0 E -49.36 -48.40 -0.96
Davis 68 S, 78 E -10.25 -10.07 -0.18
McMurdo 77 S, 166 E -15.56 -16.63 +1.07
Vostok 78 S, 106 E -56.20 -55.17 -1.03
Casey 66 S, 110 E -9.74 -9.10 -0.64
Faraday 65 S, 64 E -2.38 -2.85 +0.47


So we have four sites out of six coming out cooler. The following points are worth noting:

  • Faraday is on the Antarctic Peninsula, the others in East Antarctica.
  • The Doran paper highlights significant cooling of 0.7C/decade in the McMurdo region between 1986 and 2000. This would imply current temperatures are now back to where they were before then.

It is also worth noting that warming in the Antarctic Peninsula is not just a recent phenomenon, as a paper by Barbara et al, “Diatoms and biomarkers evidence for major changes in sea ice conditions prior the instrumental period in Antarctic Peninsula” makes clear.


The Antarctic Peninsula (AP) has been identified as one of the most rapidly warming region on Earth. Satellite monitoring currently allows for a detailed understanding of the relationship between sea ice extent and duration and atmospheric and oceanic circulations in this region. However, our knowledge on ocean–ice–atmosphere interactions is still relatively poor for the period extending beyond the last 30 years. Here, we describe environmental conditions in Northwestern and Northeastern Antarctic Peninsula areas over the last century using diatom census counts and diatom specific biomarkers (HBIs) in two marine sediment multicores (MTC-38C and -18A, respectively). Diatom census counts and HBIs show abrupt changes between 1935 and 1950, marked by ocean warming and sea ice retreat in both sides of the AP. Since 1950, inferred environmental conditions do not provide evidence for any trend related to the recent warming but demonstrate a pronounced variability on pluri-annual to decadal time scale. We propose that multi-decadal sea ice variations over the last century are forced by the recent warming, while the annual-to-decadal variability is mainly governed by synoptic and regional wind fields in relation with the position and intensity of the atmospheric low-pressure trough around the AP.


In other words, abrupt warming was seen between 1935 and 1950.


So it is reasonable to conclude that, although the Peninsula is warming, the bulk of East Antarctica is actually getting colder.




Again, please note the reference in the Barbara paper to

ocean warming and sea ice retreat

Do not be fooled by claims that increasing sea ice in Antarctica is due to warming.

  1. September 15, 2013 10:23 am

    “In other words, abrupt warming was seen between 1935 and 1950”.
    That might correlate with what has been happening in the Arctic. Note that the warm cycle was between the early 1910s up to 1946/47. Then the warm remnant from that period took a few years to dissipate, so Antarctica continued to be affected for some years after the warm cycle ended. That seems to be what the Arctic has experienced over the last 12 years, approx. Towards the end of the warm cycle is where the effects are most noticeable in the system. Then it takes a few more years for the extra heat to dissipate as a cooling trend develops. It will take a few more years to get a better picture.


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