'It has worldwide impacts': Antarctica suffers first heatwave in modern history

Antarctica has experienced its first known heatwave, scientists say, putting the world at risk of "a multitude of biological impacts" in years to come.

In February, the Ice Continent twice recorded its highest ever temperature - a toasty 18.3degC early in the month, followed by an alarming 20.7degC reading just a week later.

Now, Australian Antarctic Program researchers say those warm days were part of a pattern of warm weather, confirming the continent suffered a heatwave in the Southern Hemisphere summer of 2019-20.

A heatwave is classified as three consecutive days with very high minimum and maximum temperatures. These were recorded between January 24-26.

The findings, which were published in scientific journal Global Change Biology this week, have exacerbated fears around climate change and the sustainability of the planet.

The study's authors say while Antarctica is geographically isolated, it has "worldwide impacts" and the power to alter global weather patterns.

"It drives the global ocean conveyor belt, a constant system of deep-ocean circulation which transfers oceanic heat around the planet, and its melting ice sheet adds to global sea-level rise," they said.

"Based on our experience from previous anomalous hot summers in Antarctica, we can expect a multitude of biological impacts to be reported in coming years."

There are fears too for native animal and plant species. The high temperatures will precipitate an increase in meltwater, which the study's authors warn could spark dramatic changes in communities of invertebrates and microbes.

Last year, a study by Otago University professor Dr Catherine Beltran showed Antarctica's ice sheet was at risk of melting, which would cause major sea level rises and many other ecological impacts.