Last Saturday, with a handful of walking-on icebreakers from the United States and Great Britain circling the peninsula, something unexpected happened. Navy photographers watched as cold, wet, slushy clouds rolled in off Antarctica’s Southern Ocean, pouring over the razor-sharp ice floes.
“I’ve been seeing these clouds develop out of nowhere in the Antarctic before — we thought they were clouds on the warm side of the peninsula,” said Capt. Chris Davidson, a Naval Aviation Museum photographer on board the USS Shoup, according to NPR.
But in the 15 minutes it took for the clouds to grow into the “wrong side of a mountain range” (where they look most like clouds, according to Davidson), the ice floes began to collapse.
“All of a sudden these huge, massive peaks of ice dropped into this giant whitish blob,” Davidson said. “By that time, the ships were right there, with the puffy white clouds directly overhead.”
His photos prove it. The slow move across the South Pole’s ice cap and back to the coast of McMurdo Sound represents a dramatic change in Antarctic weather. From the time of this year’s rapid melt of the last October to the time Davidson’s ship left McMurdo for the Navy’s publicity event on Saturday, the entire southern peninsula experienced an increase in temperatures of 15 degrees Fahrenheit. The glacial ice shelves that support the land near the Antarctic Peninsula — called Western Artic ice shelves — have also been rapidly disappearing.