Temperatures recorded on the tip of the Antarctic Peninsula (AP) reportedly reached 63.5 F (17.5 C) last week. This comes just days after a 63.3 F (17.4 C) day in the region – both of these surpass the the previous high on the AP of 62.8 F (17.1 C) set in 1961. The record breaking event has received significant media exposure, popping up in various places around the interwebs.
While these temperatures are thought to be due to anomalous conditions in the region, this event brings attention to extreme weather events are that have become increasingly common in recent years. Changes in long-term mean temperatures in the region often receive the most attention (with mean winter temperatures having increased by over 5 C since the 1960s), however this increase in weather variance should not be overlooked. These extreme events are often what limit an organism’s ability to persist in a particular environment, and may be crucial in determining species ranges – particularly in ectotherms which rely on external environmental conditions to regulate their body temperature. For these organisms, changes in these extremes may arguably be more important than changes in long-term mean temperatures. While the relative importance of extremes vs. means may be disputed, increasingly attention should be paid to both of these phenomena. As these trends continue, research efforts (including efforts here in the Lynch Lab) will continue to elucidate how these changes, whether long-term means or extremes, are impacting these natural systems, and what we might expect to see as these trends continue into the future.10-year average temperature (2000-2009) deviation from 1951-1980 mean. Rapid increases in temperature along the AP (off the tip of South America) are apparent. Image courtesy of NASA Earth Observatory