Extreme events in Antarctica such as ocean heatwaves and ice loss will almost certainly become more common and more severe, researchers say.
With drastic action now needed to limit global warming to the Paris Agreement target of 1.5°C, the scientists warn that recent extremes in Antarctica may be the tip of the iceberg.
The study reviews evidence of extreme events in Antarctica and the Southern Ocean, including weather, sea ice, ocean temperatures, glacier and ice shelf systems, and biodiversity on land and sea.
It concludes that Antarctica’s fragile environments “may well be subject to considerable stress and damage in future years and decades” – and calls for urgent policy action to protect it.
“Antarctic change has global implications,” said lead author Professor Martin Siegert, from the University of Exeter.
“Reducing greenhouse gas emissions to net zero is our best hope of preserving Antarctica, and this must matter to every country – and individual – on the planet.”
Professor Siegert said the rapid changes now happening in Antarctica could place many countries in breach of an international treaty.
“Signatories to the Antarctic Treaty (including the UK, USA, India and China) pledge to preserve the environment of this remote and fragile place,” he said.
“Nations must understand that by continuing to explore, extract and burn fossil fuels anywhere in the world, the environment of Antarctica will become ever more affected in ways inconsistent with their pledge.”