Antarctic cooling doesn't 'debunk' climate change - expert

(Nerilie Abram / supplied)
(Nerilie Abram / supplied)

The Antarctic Peninsula has been cooling over the past 15 years, but experts say it doesn't mean climate change is a myth.

It's the opposite of what's happening in the rest of the world. Ice in the Arctic is retreating fast, and we're cracking temperature records on a monthly basis.

But after decades of warming, measurements taken on the Antarctic Peninsula - the continent's most northern part - have recorded cooling.

The study, published in Nature, says it's a result of "natural variability" in the climate.

Despite the cooling, temperatures in Antarctica are still warmer than in the middle of the 20th century, so the ice is still melting and glaciers are continuing to retreat.

The team behind the says their findings only cover about 1 percent of the continent, so it's only accurate for that particular area, not the whole of Antarctica.

The study's authors are careful to say it's a localised pause in global warming, rather than a reversal. And experts around the world agree, warning climate change deniers not to get too excited.

"While some sceptics may see this paper as an apparent 'debunking', the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change made it clear... unlike the Arctic, overall Antarctica had not warmed any faster than the global average temperature increase since the mid-20th century," says Antarctic Research Centre director Professor Tim Naish.

"It also noted that during past warmer-than-present climates, when carbon dioxide levels reached 400 parts per million or more, Antarctica did display an amplified warming pattern up to two times more than the global average."

Australian National University's Nerilie Abram says the paper "definitely" doesn't imply global warming has stopped, but instead highlights how yearly variability has an impact on long-term trends.

"For a remote place like Antarctica, where climate measurements are especially short and those year-to-year swings in climate are very large, our records really aren't long enough yet to see the full picture of human-caused climate change."

Professor Andrew Shepherd, director of the Centre for Polar Observation and Modelling at the University of Leeds, says it's unsurprising that there's some data that "buck[s] the trend".

But the warming of the air isn't the biggest threat the ice faces.

"The real threat is ocean warming, which has triggered widespread loss of ice just around the corner in West Antarctica," Prof Shepherd says.

"And we should not lose sight of that because there are early signs in the satellite record of similar effects at the peninsula too."