Monday, June 21, 2021

Climate crisis: Scientists alarmed by Siberian heat wave

The Arctic is literally on fire — at least parts of it are. And that’s got scientists worried about what it means for the rest of the world.

The thermometer hit a likely record of 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit in the Russian Arctic town of Verkhoyansk, a temperature that is unusual in Siberia, which is known for being frozen. 

The Arctic is warming much faster than we thought it would in response to rising levels of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, and this warming is leading to a rapid meltdown and increase in wildfires. 

Much of Siberia had high temperatures this year that were beyond unseasonably warm. From January through May, the average temperature in north-central Siberia has been about 14 degrees Fahrenheit above average. 

Siberia is in the Guinness Book of World Records for its extreme temperatures. Such prolonged Siberian warmth hasn’t been seen for thousands of years, which means Russia’s Arctic regions are among the fastest warming areas in the world.

The temperature on Earth over the past few decades has been growing, on average, by 0.18 degrees Celsius every 10 years. But in Russia it increases by 0.47 degrees Celsius — and in the Russian Arctic, by 0.69 degrees Celsius every decade.

The increasing temperatures in Siberia have been linked to prolonged wildfires and the thawing of the permafrost — a huge problem because buildings and pipelines are built on them. Thawing permafrost also releases heat-trapping gas and dries out the soil, which increases wildfires. 

A catastrophic oil spill from a collapsed storage tank last month near the Arctic city of Norilsk was partly blamed on melting permafrost. Last August, more than 4 million hectares of forests in Siberia were on fire. 

Persistently warm weather, if coupled with wildfires, causes permafrost to thaw faster, which in turn exacerbates global warming by releasing large amounts of methane, a potent greenhouse gas that’s 28 times stronger than carbon dioxide.

And what happens in the Arctic can even warp the weather in the United States and Europe.

A combination of factors — such as a high pressure system with a clear sky and the sun being very high, extremely long daylight hours and short warm nights — have contributed to the Siberian temperature spike that is indicative of a much bigger global warming trend.

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