On March 18, the Concordia research station on the east Antarctic plateau experienced a 38.5 degrees Celsius increase in temperature from the seasonal average. The maximum average in March is minus 40 C or thereabouts. But on that day the temperature recorded was minus 9.4 C. Still sub-zero but an unnatural high for one of the coldest places on earth.

The immediate explanation for the heatwave is that poleward winds which never made inroads into the atmosphere above Antarctica were doing so. Some scientists are of the view that this is an outcome of the earth warming up due to increased carbon emissions.

Changes due to global warming in the Antarctic region have become visible in recent years. Glaciers in the west Antarctic ice sheet are losing mass to the ocean at an increasing rate, while levels of sea ice, which float on the oceans around the continent, have plunged dramatically.

So, why should we be concerned about polar ice melting and Antarctica warming? Scientists warn that if all the ice in the frosty continent melts, then sea levels would rise by 60 metres globally. This would inundate coastal zones around the globe and sink several islands affecting millions of lives. But such a catastrophic eventuality will take a very long time.

Antarctica’s ice covers an area that is as vast as the US and Mexico combined and stores about 60 per cent of the world’s fresh water. Such a mass of ice will not melt in the foreseeable future, but if we do not contain carbon emissions then small changes in the polar regions could trigger dangerous outcomes for the planet.