The Arctic is on fire: Siberian heat wave alerts scientists

The Arctic is on fire: Siberian heat wave alerts scientists

MOSCOW (AP) – The Arctic is feverish and on fire – at least parts of it. And that worries scientists about what it means for the rest of the world.

The thermometer reached a likely record high of 38 degrees Celsius (100.4 degrees Fahrenheit) in the Russian Arctic city of Verkhoyansk on Saturday, a temperature that would cause fever for a person – but this is Siberia, which is known as frozen. The World Meteorological Organization said on Tuesday that it wants to verify the temperature reading, which would be unprecedented for the region north of the Arctic Circle.

“The Arctic is figuratively and literally on fire – it is heating up much faster than we thought it would be due to rising levels of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, and this warming is causing a rapid meltdown and an increase in wildfires,” the Dean University of Michigan environmental scientist Jonathan Overpeck said in an email.

“Record warming in Siberia is a major warning sign,” Overpeck wrote.

Much of Siberia had high temperatures this year, which were unusually warm outside. From January through May, the average temperature in north-central Siberia was about 8 degrees Celsius (14 degrees Fahrenheit) above average, according to a climate science study, Berkeley Earth.

“That is much, much warmer than ever in that region at that time,” said Berkeke Earth climate scientist Zeke Hausfather.

Siberia is in the Guinness Book of World Records because of the extreme temperatures. It’s a place where the thermometer swam 106 degrees Celsius (190 degrees Fahrenheit), from a low of minus 68 degrees Celsius (minus 90 Fahrenheit) to now 38 degrees Celsius (100.4 Fahrenheit).

For residents of the Sakha Republic in the Russian Arctic, a heat wave is not necessarily a bad thing. Vasilisa Ivanova spent every day with her family swimming and sunbathing this week.

“We spend all day on the banks of the River Lena,” said Ivanova, who lives in the village of Zhigansk, 430 kilometers from where the heat record was set. “We have been coming every day since Monday.”

But for scientists, “alarm bells should ring,” Overpeck wrote.

Such long-lasting Siberian warmth has not been seen for thousands of years, “and it is another sign that the Arctic is intensifying global warming even more than we thought,” Overpeck said.

The Arctic regions of Russia are among the fastest warming regions in the world.

The temperature on Earth has risen on average every 10 years by 0.18 degrees Celsius (nearly a third of a degree Fahrenheit) in recent decades. But in Russia, it’s increasing by 0.47 degrees Celsius (0.85 degrees Fahrenheit) – and in the Russian Arctic by 0.69 degrees Celsius (1.24 degrees Fahrenheit) every decade, said Andrei Kiselyov, the chief scientist of the Moscow-based Voeikov Main Geophysical Observatory.

“In that respect, we are ahead of the entire planet,” said Kicallyov.

Rising temperatures in Siberia have been linked to prolonged forest fires that intensify every year and the thawing of permafrost – a huge problem as buildings and pipelines are built on it. Thawing permafrost also releases more heat-retaining gas and dries out the soil, increasing forest fires, said Vladimir Romanovsky, who studies permafrost at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

“In this case, it is even worse, because the winter before it was extremely warm,” said Romanovsky. The permafrost thaws, the ice melts, the soil sinks and then it can cause a feedback loop that worsens the thawing of permafrost and “cold winters can’t stop it,” said Romanovsky.

A disastrous oil spill from a collapsed storage tank near the Arctic city of Norilsk last month was partially blamed for melting permafrost. In 2011, part of a residential building in Yakutsk, the largest city in the Republic of Sakha, collapsed due to the thawing and subsidence of the soil.

Last August, more than 4 million hectares of forest in Siberia were on fire, according to Greenpeace. This year the fires started much earlier than the usual start in July, said Vladimir Chuprov, director of the project department of Greenpeace Russia.

Persistent warm weather, especially when combined with wildfires, causes permafrost to thaw faster, which in turn exacerbates global warming by releasing large amounts of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas 28 times stronger than carbon dioxide, said Katey Walter Anthony , a University of Alaska Fairbanks expert on methane release from frozen arctic soil.

“Methane escaping from permafrost thawing sites enters the atmosphere and circulates around the world,” she said. “Methane that originates in the Arctic does not remain in the Arctic. It has global implications. ‘

And what’s happening in the Arctic may even distort the weather in the United States and Europe.

In the summer, the unusual warming reduces the temperature and pressure differential between the Arctic and the lower latitudes where more people live, said Judah Cohen, an expert in winter weather at Atmospheric Environmental Research, a commercial company outside of Boston.

That seems to weaken and sometimes even stop the jetstream, meaning weather systems like those with extreme heat or rain can stay in places for days, Cohen said.

According to meteorologists from the Russian weather agency Rosgidrome t, a combination of factors – such as a high-pressure system with a clear sky and very high sun, extremely long daylight hours and short warm nights – contributed to the Siberian temperature peak.

“The ground surface warms up intensively. … The nights are very warm, the air has no time to cool down and continues to heat up for several days, ”says Marina Makarova, chief meteorologist at Rosgidromet.

Makarova added that temperatures in Verkhoyansk remained unusually high from Friday to Monday.

Scientists agree that the peak is indicative of much greater global warming.

“The key point is that the climate is changing and the temperatures on Earth are rising,” said Freja Vamborg, senior scientist at the Copernicus Climate Change Service in the UK. “We will break more and more records.”

“What is clear is that global warming in the Arctic is adding fuel to global warming,” said Waleed Abdalati, a former NASA chief scientist who now works at the University of Colorado.


Borenstein reported from Washington. Associated Press writers Jim Heintz in Moscow, Frank Jordans in Berlin, Jamey Keaten in Geneva and Roman Kutukov in Yakutsk, Russia contributed to this report.

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