Temperatures in Antarctica hit a record high of 18.3C, UN scientists confirm as they reiterate warning that ‘climate change requires urgent measures’

  • Temperature reading of 64.9°F (18.3°C) set at research base in February last year
  • It’s the highest recorded on Antarctic continent, says UN meteorological agency 
  • The reading provides a reminder that global warming ‘requires urgent measures’

Antarctica has experienced its highest temperature on record, according to meteorologists at the UN. 

The new record of 64.9°F (18.3°C) was set on February 6, 2020, a team at the UN agency the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) has revealed.   

The reading was captured at the Esperanza Base, an Argentine research station on the Antarctic Peninsula – the northwest tip near to South America, and among the fastest warming regions on Earth.

WMO scientists blamed global warming and said the reading is another reminder that ‘climate change requires urgent measures’.   

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The new reading of 64.9°F (18.3°C) was captured at the Esperanza Base, an Argentine research station on the Antarctic Peninsula on February 6, 2020

The Antarctic Peninsula, the northwest tip near South America, is among the fastest warming regions on Earth

Greenhouse gas emissions from human activities, such as burning coal for power, cause the rise in global temperatures, leading to a potentially catastrophic rise in sea levels.  

‘It is essential to continue strengthening the observing, forecasting and early warning systems to respond to the extreme events that take place more and more often due to global warming,’ said Professor Celeste Saulo, first vice president of WMO. 

Antarctica spans more than 5 million square miles (14 million km2), making it roughly twice the size of Australia. 

The average annual temperature ranges from about -10°C on the Antarctic coast to -60°C at the highest parts of the interior continent. 

2020 was one of three warmest years on record, according to a new report, despite La Niña – the large-scale cooling of the ocean surface temperatures in the Pacific. 

Global average temperatures last year reached around 2.16°F (1.2°C) above the pre-Industrial Revolution levels (1850-1900), revealed the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) in April 2021. 

The six years since 2015 have been the warmest on record, while the period 2011 to 2020 was the warmest decade on record, WMO said in its State of the Global Climate 2020 report, published today.     

Statistically, 2020 was just behind 2016 and just ahead of 2019 in terms of global temperatures, putting it within the top three. 

But a WMO spokesperson told MailOnline that the difference between the three is so small that it falls within the margin of error. 

Overall, the report new documents the various causes and effects of climate crisis, including greenhouse gas concentrations, increasing land and ocean temperatures, sea level rise, melting ice and glacier retreat and extreme weather.

Its immense ice sheet is up to 3 miles (4.8km) thick and contains 90 per cent of the world’s fresh water, enough to raise sea level by just under 200 feet (around 60 metres) were it all to melt from global warming. 

The previous record for Antarctic land (Antarctica), including mainland and surrounding islands, was 17.5°C (63.5°F) recorded on March, 24 2015 at Esperanza. 

But the record for the whole of the Antarctic region – all ice and land that’s south of 60 degrees latitude – is 67.6°F (19.8°C), taken on Signy Island in January 1982. 

According to the WMO, the Antarctic Peninsula is among the fastest warming regions of the planet, and has warmed by almost 5.4°F (3°C) over the last 50 years. 

‘This new temperature record is therefore consistent with the climate change we are observing,’ said WMO Secretary-General Professor Petteri Taalas.  

‘Verification of the maximum temperature record is important because it helps us to build up a picture of the weather and climate in one of Earth’s final frontiers.

‘Even more so than the Arctic, the Antarctic, is poorly covered in terms of continuous and sustained weather and climate observations and forecasts, even though both play an important role in driving climate and ocean patterns and in sea level rise.’    

Researchers say a large high-pressure system over the area created what’s known as ‘föhn’ conditions – downslope winds producing surface warming – resulting in local warming at Esperanza. 

The new record will now be added to the WMO Archive of Weather and Climate Extremes, which includes the world’s highest and lowest temperatures, as well as data on rainfall, heaviest hailstone, longest dry period and maximum gust of wind.

The assessment is detailed further in a paper published by WMO scientists, published in Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society.   

The reading from the Esperanza base was recorded at midday on Thursday and beats beats the previous record of 17.5°C (63.5°F) in March 2015 by 0.8°C (pictured, the church of Esperanza in Antarctica) 

Antarctica spans more than 5 million square miles (14 million km2), making it roughly twice the size of Australia. Pictured, melting ice in Antarctica

Interestingly, WMO has also rejected an even higher temperature, of 69.35°F (20.75°C), which was reported on February 9, 2020 at a Brazil-operated monitoring station on Seymour Island, also on the the Antarctic Peninsula. 

The erroneous reading was caused by an ‘improvised radiation shield’ that led to a ‘thermal bias error’ on the temperature sensor.  

2020 has already set several worrying climate records – according to data from the European Union’s Copernicus Climate Change Service, 2020 was the warmest year on record for Europe.

2020 temperatures in the continent were more than 2.8°F (1.6°C) above the average for between 1981 and 2010, C3S revealed in April.

They were also at least 0.72°F (0.4°C) warmer than the next five warmest years on record, which all occurred during the last decade – 2019, 2018, 2016, 2015 and 2014. 

Globally, 2020 was also one of three warmest years on record, according to a previous report from the WMO.  

WMO rejected a reading of 69.35°F (20.75°C), erroneously captured on February 9, 2020 at a Brazil-operated monitoring station on Seymour Island


Global sea levels could rise as much as 10ft (3 metres) if the Thwaites Glacier in West Antarctica collapses. 

Sea level rises threaten cities from Shanghai to London, to low-lying swathes of Florida or Bangladesh, and to entire nations such as the Maldives. 

In the UK, for instance, a rise of 6.7ft (2 metres) or more may cause areas such as Hull, Peterborough, Portsmouth and parts of east London and the Thames Estuary at risk of becoming submerged.

The collapse of the glacier, which could begin with decades, could also submerge major cities such as New York and Sydney.

Parts of New Orleans, Houston and Miami in the south on the US would also be particularly hard hit.

A 2014 study looked by the union of concerned scientists looked at 52 sea level indicators in communities across the US.

It found tidal flooding will dramatically increase in many East and Gulf Coast locations, based on a conservative estimate of predicted sea level increases based on current data.

The results showed that most of these communities will experience a steep increase in the number and severity of tidal flooding events over the coming decades.

By 2030, more than half of the 52 communities studied are projected to experience, on average, at least 24 tidal floods per year in exposed areas, assuming moderate sea level rise projections. Twenty of these communities could see a tripling or more in tidal flooding events.

The mid-Atlantic coast is expected to see some of the greatest increases in flood frequency. Places such as Annapolis, Maryland and Washington, DC can expect more than 150 tidal floods a year, and several locations in New Jersey could see 80 tidal floods or more.

In the UK, a two metre (6.5 ft) rise by 2040 would see large parts of Kent almost completely submerged, according to the results of a paper published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Science in November 2016.

Areas on the south coast like Portsmouth, as well as Cambridge and Peterborough would also be heavily affected.

Cities and towns around the Humber estuary, such as Hull, Scunthorpe and Grimsby would also experience intense flooding. 

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