Attempting to reinforce the climate crisis narrative, a recent high temperature record in Antarctica has been misleadingly ballyhooed as an example of global warming by the world’s largest media outlets – New York Times, BBC, the Guardian, etc. Although the NY Times tries to sell their paper with the slogan “The Truth is Worth It”, their misleading articles suggest you should spend your money elsewhere. These media giants seem more intent on scaring the public and manufacturing a false climate crisis, than educating the public about the real physics that cause weather changes causing Antarctica’s temperature record!
The NY Times wrote, “Antarctica, the coldest, windiest and driest continent on Earth, set a record high temperature on Thursday, underscoring global warming” But the fact that Antarctica is the coldest place on earth, has nothing to do with a temperature record at a single weather station, Esperanza. Esperanza is located at the warmest, most northerly part of the mountainous Antarctica peninsula. Esperanza is most sensitive to El Nino warming. It most sensitive to the southward flow of warm moist subtropical winds. And Esperanza’s topography always amplifies temperatures when winds from the northwest cause foehn wind events. What happened at Esperanza has nothing to do with Antarctica’s overall climate trends, never mind any global warming trend.
The Guardian wrote, Antarctica “is one of the fastest warming places on earth, heating by almost 3°C [5.4°F] over the past 50 years”. However, the Guardian hides the fact they are using zombie data. Recent research shows a cooling trend since the year 2000 and that contradicts any CO2 driven global warming theory.
In the 2016 peer-reviewed paper “Absence of 21st century Warming on Antarctic Peninsula consistent with Natural Variability”, Antarctic climate experts documented that from 1979–1997, Antarctic had indeed experienced the globe’s fastest warming temperatures, increasing by 3.2 °C [5.8 °F] per century. In contrast, from 1999–2014, temperatures then decreased at a rate 4.7 °C [8.5 °F} per century. This strong cooling trend is rarely reported or referred to by media alarmists. Dishonestly, the Guardian ignores the recent cooling trends to suggest a recent one day Esperanza temperature record is “a sign that warming in Antarctica is happening much faster than global average” and “is the foreshadowing of what is to come.” Likewise the NY Times dishonestly claims, “The high temperature is in keeping with the earth’s overall warming trend, which is in large part caused by emissions of greenhouse gases.
The Guardian’s author Graham Readfearn engages in his typical alarmist distortions to write, “Previous research from 2012 found the current rate of warming in the region was almost unprecedented over the past 2000 years.” Really? Almost unprecedented? The paper he refers to actually stated, “Although warming of the northeastern Antarctic Peninsula began around 600 years ago, the high rate of warming over the past century is unusual (but not unprecedented) in the context of natural climate variability over the past two millennia.
The BBC gets the prize for going completely off the rails stating, “Scientists warn that global warming is causing so much melting at the South Pole, it will eventually disintegrate - causing the global sea level to rise by at least three metres (10ft) over centuries.” But there has been no warming trend at the south pole nor in east Antarctica as exemplified by the Dumont D’Urville weather station.
For those readers who only trust peer reviewed papers, I suggest reading, “Foehn Event Triggered by an Atmospheric River Underlies Record-Setting Temperature Along Continental Antarctica” which thoroughly investigated the causes of the previous 2015 record-setting temperature at Esperanza.
What is a foehn event? Foehn events cause rapid extreme temperature jumps simply due to changes in the air pressure as winds descend from a mountain top. During the 2015 foehn event, Esperanza’s daily temperature jumped from 0°C [32°F] 2 days before, to a record setting 17.5°C [63.5°F]. Elsewhere, Antarctic foehn winds are common and have been extensively studied, often raising maximum temperatures by 10+°C [18+°F] above normal.
As seen in figure “c” below, weather systems in 2015 had driven a warm and humid subtropical air flow from the northwest onto the northern Antarctic Peninsula. That warm air flow raised the western peninsula’s temperatures above normal. Then those winds rose up and over the peninsula’s mountain range amplifying temperatures even further on the east side of the peninsula. As the air rose, its water vapor condensed, both releasing precipitation and releasing latent heat that had further warmed the air. As that warmer and drier air passed over the mountain crest and descended onto Esperanza, temperatures warmed further as air pressure increased temperatures at a rate of over 5°F for every 1000-foot drop in altitude. A typical foehn event.
As happens in all the earth’s mountainous regions, foehn winds warm the air due to simple physics and well-established gas laws. Warming does not require any added heat from the sun or CO2. During Esperanza’s 2015 record warmth, temperatures had hovered around 0.5°C [32.9 °F] the day before. But as winds from the northwest increased air flow over the peninsula’s mountains, those foehn winds increased Esperanza’s temperatures by 17.5 °C [31.5 °F]. Those same dynamics were in play during the February 2020 record temperature.
In contrast to several paragraphs trying to implicate global warming, the Guardian did offer one sentence hinting at a foehn wind warming, quoting Dr. Renwick: “higher temperatures in the region tended to coincide with strong northwesterly winds moving down mountain slopes – a feature of the weather patterns around Esperanza in recent days.”
Also a quote from Dr Steve Rintoul, an Antarctic expert at CSIRO, admitted: “This is a record from only a single station, but it is in the context of what’s happening elsewhere and is more evidence that as the planet warms we get more warm records and fewer cold records.”
But Rintoul is not sharing all the facts. The current context for the Antarctica Peninsula is that for over a decade it has experienced cooling temperatures driven by natural variability. In fact, glaciers in Esperanza’s region have also expanded. Esperanza’s record temperature simply happened due to foehn winds despite a cooling trend. Unfortunately, the media would rather scare the public to promote a climate crisis, than honestly educate them about the causes of natural climate variability.
Jim Steele is Director emeritus of San Francisco State’s Sierra Nevada Field Campus and authored Landscapes and Cycles: An Environmentalist’s Journey to Climate Skepticism