Antarctica’s heatwaves are a warning to humanity – and we have only a narrow window to save the planet

Antarctica is currently experiencing dramatic changes at unprecedented rates, marked by repeated extreme events. These include circum-Antarctic summer heatwaves and an autumn heatwave last year, with temperatures soaring up to 40˚C above the average. Moreover, both last summer and this winter, sea ice extent has reached record lows. These changes have happened even faster than scientists predicted.

Antarctica is a crucial component of the Earth system and a sentinel for growing change. As Antarctic scientists, we see the evidence of mounting change, including changes in food webs, rapid change in populations, breeding failure and local ecosystem collapse, with projections of rapid transformation of a region that makes our planet liveable and contributes in extraordinary ways to global biodiversity.

The events unfolding in Antarctica have not been restricted to the continent. Record after record has been broken over the past few years for heatwaves, wildfires, floods and droughts across the globe. Diseases such as avian influenza (H5N1 bird flu), which has touched 81 countries over the last two years, also pose significant threats.