Contextualizing the 1997 warm event observed at Patriot Hills in the interior of West Antarctica

  • Jorge F. Carrasco Centro de Investigación GAIA Antártica, Universidad de Magallanes, Punta Arenas, Chile
Keywords: Air temperature, El Niño–Southern Oscillation, Antarctic Oscillation, ERA-Interim reanalysis, blocking ridge, foehn effect, warm advection


Between 5 and 8 December 1997, the surface air temperature increased up to 3°C in the interior of West Antarctica, at Patriot Hills (PH), located at about 80°08’S, 81°16ʹ W, at an elevation of 855 m a.s.l. This was about 15°C warmer than the mean air temperature (−12°C) for this location at this time of the year. The ice surface field along the hills used as a runway for large aircraft melted, forming small ponds at the foot of the slope. This warm event was associated with a passing mid-tropospheric ridge that reached the interior of West Antarctica, whose anticyclonic circulation advected warm air towards the PH area. The foehn effect of the descending airflow on the northern slope of PH did not significantly contribute to the warming. The El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO) was reaching its mature phase during the last quarter of 1997 and the warming/melting episode may be related to large-scale circulation associated with ENSO occurrence. However, warm events in the interior of West Antarctica may occur during any phase of ENSO. In contrast, the negative phase of the Antarctic Oscillation seems to support the development of the mid-tropospheric ridges that can advect warm maritime air towards the interior of West Antarctica. The 3°C registered at PH may be one of the highest near-surface air temperatures measured below 2500 m a.s.l. in the far interior coastal area of West Antarctica. This suggests a new subregion for determining air temperature records in Antarctica may need to be considered.


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