Madison College Atmospheric Science Instructor Matthew Lazzara Helps Decipher Record-Breaking Antarctic Heatwave


Madison College atmospheric science instructor Dr. Matthew Lazzara’s job is to keep a vigilant eye on Earth’s most southern continent. So, when temps, normally the coldest on the planet, hit a record-shattering -9.4° C in the interior of Antarctica, it grabbed his attention.

Now the puzzle of the March 2022 record-breaking heatwave is revealed as Lazzara, and global colleagues' extensive observation and research has resulted in two companion articles published in the American Meteorological Society’s Journal of Climate on Jan. 9, 2024.

Lazzara analyzed data and satellite images from Antarctic automated weather stations, funded by grants received by Madison College and its partner University of Wisconsin, showed the high temps and curious gray clouds enveloping far into the polar continent.

"In March, it’s a transition season in Wisconsin, but in Antarctica, the sun is down, and it warmed up a lot, and it was not the sun that did it, so it has to be something else, so that is what the paper is about,” Lazzara explains.

Madison College atmospheric science instructor at an Automated Weather Station (AWS) in Antarctica.
Madison College atmospheric science instructor Matt Lazzara at an Automated Weather Station (AWS) in Antarctica.

Lazzara says an atmospheric river transported moisture from convention and tropical activity in the Indian Ocean into the Antarctic continent, causing warmer air, stormy weather, coastal rains, and an ice shelf to collapse. And it reached far into the continent–at the heatwave’s peak, an area of 3.3 million km2 (the size of India) in East Antarctica exceeded previous March monthly temperature records.

The heat wave created a short-term impact with severe weather and damage to an ice shelf. Lazzara says the long-term impact is still unknown, and there’s a concern if these record high-temperature events will occur in the future, what it could mean for the Antarctic and the planet.

Madison College students saw in real-time the climbing Antarctic temps via the weather display outside the Physical Science lab at B3200A. Lazzara’s involvement in the Antarctic research and Madison College’s connection to the Antarctic automatic weather stations piqued students’ interest in the Weather and Climate classes.

“Students were excited about the research and the connection to Madison College,” Lazzara says.

The college's continued commitment to climate observations will get a boost with research and development on a brand-new automatic weather station grant funded by the National Science Foundation in partnership with the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

With the Antarctic heatwave findings from the geoscience community published this week, Lazzara says the high point of the project was the international collaboration.

“In the Antarctic, I work with everyone,” Lazzara says. “There is an Antarctic treaty that many nations have signed on to that allows the free exchange of data and science. It’s fabulous to collaborate and bring up with what we got and for others to bring up the elements that they got and it comes together as a nice cohesive story.”