Antarctic soccer, barbecues and warming

January 22, 2009

For anyone who thinks (like I did) that Antarctica is a bone-chilling freezer lashed by constant blizzards, a visit to the Antarctic Peninsula is a surprise.

As you can see from the picture, you can even play soccer at the British Rothera research station — Stuart Mc Dill of Reuters TV (a skilled left winger) and I (unskilled) joined in a game last night and I have the grazes to prove it. Our team managed to win, 4-2, on the gravel pitch outside the plane hangar — meteorologist Ali Price brilliantly knocked in three, even though he was wearing a pair of clunking hiking boots.

And last weekend, staff had an outdoor barbecue with steaks and a cooler for drinks made from snow scooped up by a bulldozer.

At Rothera, summer temperatures now are comparable to the winter in England, where the British Antarctic Survey has its headquarters in Cambridge. On “warm” days, when temperatures climb to about 7 Celsius, some in Antarctica staff wander around outside in tee-shirts and even shorts.

Temperatures today are 0.5 Celsius (32.9 Fahrenheit), not much cooler than 4.4 Celsius (39.9 F) at BAS headquarters.

In recent days, it has rained at least as often as it has snowed at Rothera.

Of course there has been rain here long  before anyone ever thought about global warming. But BAS glaciologist David Vaughan (who took the picture above) says that temperatures on the peninsula have risen by up to 3 Celsius (5.4 F) in the past 50 years — making rains more likely.

And all of Antarctica is getting warmer, according to a report in this week’s edition of the journal Nature. Until now, scientists have reckoned that the warming is limited to the Antarctic Peninsula but the U.S. study (for a story, click here) says that warming extends far wider across the frozen continent.

Staff at research bases, who relax by playing soccer, are trying to work out the risks of warming — a melt of ice sheets would add to sea level rise and have unknown impacts on wildlife from penguins to tiny mosses that have adapted to freezing temperatures.

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