Fact Check-Six months of record cold temperatures at the South Pole Amundsen-Scott station does not discredit climate change

A South Pole weather station recorded six months of record cold temperatures in 2021. This does not discredit climate change, however, despite claims made online.

One user who shared a CNN article about the cool six-month period said: “Coldest 6 months on record in Antarctica. Brrrr..... Maybe global warming is local rather than global? (here).

Comments from users taking the content seriously include, “So so sick.”

Another user said on Twitter: “Antarctica’s temperature for the last six months has been the coldest on record. Explain the climate emergency again, environmentalists” (here).

The unusually cold temperatures were recorded at the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station (1957-present), where temperatures for the months of June, July, and August (winter) were recorded at -62.9 degrees Celsius (-81.2 degrees Fahrenheit), according to the National Snow and Ice Data Centre (NSIDC) (here). This is 3.4 degrees Celsius (6.1 degrees Fahrenheit) lower than the 1981-to-2010 average. This is the second coldest winter on record at the station (here).

From April to September, the average temperature recorded at the station was -60.9 degrees Celsius (-77.6 degrees Fahrenheit) - a record for those six months, known as the polar darkness period (here), (here), (here).

The six-month record of cool temperatures at the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station does not undermine or discredit climate change, experts told Reuters (here).

The cold temperatures recorded in 2021 have been attributed to a “strong circumpolar vortex” Rick Aster, professor of geophysics and department head geosciences department at Colorado State University, told Reuters (here).

A circumpolar vortex, also known as the polar vortex, is a band of intense winds that bring a pool of extremely cold temperatures to the South and North Pole (here), (here).

The circumpolar vortex kept the region “unusually isolated from the rest of the atmosphere, and thus unusually cold”, Aster said (here).

The temperatures recorded in Antarctica in 2021 are a regional effect and not a global one, Aster said (here).

“The overall average temperature of the planet is still increasing on average year to year due to anthropogenic global warming (and July 2021 was quantitatively determined to be the hottest month in recorded history, when temperatures were averaged across Earth’s land and oceans,” Aster said (here).

A six-month weather pattern is also not enough to determine a climatic trend.

“The daily/week/yearly variations in the weather of Antarctic are really the ‘noise’ that is associated with a long-term trend of 30 years or more, and we call this longer trend climate change. So, some metric of the past 6 months does not matter. The concern is for the longer-term trend of average change over decades. We use paleoclimate data to look at the trends over millennia (that is thousands of years),” Julie Brigham-Grette, professor of geosciences, University of Massachusetts Amherst, and chair of the Polar Research Board of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, told Reuters.

“My research group published a detailed analysis of Antarctic temperature change, 1957-2016. The continent is warming especially when one removes the impact of the cooling due to the Antarctic Ozone Hole,” David Bromwich, senior research scientist at the Byrd Polar and Climate Research Center, Polar Meteorology Group, at Ohio State University, told Reuters in an email.

“In fact, we believe this background warming is due to anthropogenic climate change (i.e., reflecting the warming of the planet). One needs to take a longer-term view to average out the variability,” Bromwich said (here).

“Just like weather can change day-to-day, we also see month-to-month variations in Antarctic temperatures; it’s the same as getting an unusually mild winter or wet summer in the UK, for instance. Even though the evidence overwhelmingly shows that the world is heating up (including Antarctica!), we still see extremes of above- and below-average temperature,” Ella Gilbert, Antarctic climate scientist and postdoctoral research associate in climate science at the University of Reading, told Reuters.

Although climate change is often described in terms of global temperature, there can be locational anomalies, Zachary Labe, postdoctoral researcher of atmospheric sciences at Colorado State University, told Reuters. Even though the last decade was the warmest on record, “there were also areas of record-breaking cold events, such as in Texas last winter”. (here)

“This regional variation is due to all of the interacting parts of the Earth system, such as the oceans, sea ice, atmosphere, and land. It is also from changes in weather patterns that are related to the position of the jet stream (storm track), which can vary from day-to-day or even month-to-month. This is basically the difference between weather and climate,” Labe said (here).

Meanwhile, long term data suggests that areas of Antarctica are warming faster than others.

“Monthly data is ‘weather,’ like what you see out the window of your house. What is important are the changes observed over decades (10 years at a time). The data clearly shows the longer-term trend and there is NO question that the trend is toward more surface melt, dramatic melt of the base of the ice shelves by warm water underneath, causing the disintegration of the vulnerable parts of Antarctica,” Brigham-Grette said. (here), (here).

“Antarctica, especially the Antarctic Peninsula and now the Pine Island and Thwaites Glacier regions are warming faster than other parts of Antarctica. It is a big continent so yes, some areas are warming a lot and other parts are warming only a little. But clearly, as the regional temperatures increase across parts of Antarctica with a global rise in CO2, we should expect more melt of the ice sheet,” she added (here), (here), (here), (here), (here), (here).

“Over the course of Earth’s history, Antarctica has experienced periods when it has been much warmer and much colder. In more recent history (the last century or so), some parts of Antarctica have warmed, while others have cooled slightly or stayed around the same temperature. However, on average, temperatures in Antarctica are rising, with the Antarctic Peninsula and parts of West Antarctica experiencing the largest increases,” Gilbert added (here).

A study released in 2020 found that the South Pole has experienced record warming over the past three decades (here).

Overall, global mean temperatures for land areas are warming twice as fast as the oceans (here), (here). 2020 was the warmest year on record for Europe and tied with 2016 for the warmest year globally, according to Copernicus (here), (here).

“The globally averaged temperature record clearly shows that we are experiencing unprecedented rates of warming during the instrumental record which goes back [approximately] 150 years. If we go further back in time looking at temperature proxy data then the rate of warming is still unprecedented over at least the last 2000 years,” Jonathan Bamber, director of the Bristol Glaciology Centre, University of Bristol, said (here), (here).


Missing context. The Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station measured record cold temperatures between the months of April and September 2021. These temperatures do not discredit climate change. A six-month period is not long enough to validate a climate trend.

This article was produced by the Reuters Fact Check team. Read more about our fact-checking work here .