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The Arctic is on fire: Siberian heat wave alarms scientists


The Arctic is feverish and 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 38 degrees Celsius (100.4 degrees Fahrenheit) in the Russian Arctic town of Verkhoyansk on Saturday, a temperature that would be a fever for a person — but this is Siberia, known for being frozen. The World Meteorological Organization said Tuesday that it’s looking 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’s 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,” University of Michigan environmental school dean Jonathan Overpeck, a climate scientist, said in an email.

“The record warming in Siberia is a warning sign of major proportions,” Overpeck wrote.

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 8 degrees Celsius (14 degrees Fahrenheit) above average, according to the climate science non-profit Berkeley Earth.

“That’s much, much warmer than it’s ever been over that region in that period of time,” Berkeley Earth climate scientist Zeke Hausfather said.

Siberia is in the Guinness Book of World Records for its extreme temperatures. It’s a place where the thermometer has swung 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 this week with her family swimming and sunbathing.

“We spend the entire day on the shore of the Lena River,” said Ivanova, who lives in the village of Zhigansk, 270 miles (430 kilometers) from where the heat record was set. “We’ve been coming every day since Monday.”

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

Such prolonged Siberian warmth hasn’t been seen for thousands of years “and it is another sign that the Arctic amplifies global warming even more than we thought,” Overpeck said.

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 (nearly one-third of a degree Fahrenheit) every 10 years. But in Russia it increases 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 lead scientist at the Moscow-based Voeikov Main Geophysical Observatory.

“In that respect, we’re ahead of the whole planet,” Kiselyov said.

The increasing temperatures in Siberia have been linked to prolonged wildfires that grow more severe every year and the thawing of the permafrost — a huge problem because buildings and pipelines are built on them. Thawing permafrost also releases more heat-trapping gas and dries out the soil, which increases wildfires, said Vladimir Romanovsky, who studies permafrost at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

“In this case it’s even more serious, because the previous winter was unusually warm,” Romanovsky said. The permafrost thaws, ice melts, the soil subsides and then it can trigger a feedback loop that worsens permafrost thawing and “cold winters can’t stop it,” Romanovsky said.

A catastrophic oil spill from a collapsed storage tank last month near the Arctic city of Norilsk was partly blamed on melting permafrost. In 2011, part of a residential building in Yakutsk, the biggest city in the Sakha Republic, collapsed due to thawing and subsidence of the ground.

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

Persistently warm weather, especially 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, said Katey Walter Anthony, a University of Alaska Fairbanks expert on methane release from frozen Arctic soil.

“Methane escaping from permafrost thaw sites enters the atmosphere and circulates around the globe,” she said. “Methane that originates in the Arctic does not stay in the Arctic. It has global ramifications.”

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

In the summer, the unusual warming lessens the temperature and pressure difference between the Arctic and lower latitudes where more people live, said Judah Cohen, a winter weather expert at Atmospheric Environmental Research, a commercial firm outside Boston.

That seems to weaken and sometimes even stall the jet stream, meaning weather systems such as those bringing extreme heat or rain can stay parked over places for days on end, Cohen said.

According to meteorologists at the Russian weather agency Rosgidrome t, 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.

“The ground surface heats up intensively. .… The nights are very warm, the air doesn’t have time to cool and continues to heat up for several days,” said Marina Makarova, chief meteorologist at Rosgidromet.

Makarova added that the temperature in Verkhoyansk remained unusually high from Friday through Monday.

Scientists agree that the spike is indicative of a much bigger global warming trend.

“The key point is that the climate is changing and global temperatures are warming,” said Freja Vamborg, senior scientist at the Copernicus Climate Change Service in the U.K. “We will be breaking more and more records as we go.”

“What is clear is that the warming Arctic adds fuel to the warming of the whole planet,” said Waleed Abdalati, a former NASA chief scientist who is now at the University of Colorado.


11 Comments on "The Arctic is on fire: Siberian heat wave alarms scientists"

  1. Shortend on Wed, 24th Jun 2020 8:01 am 

    Looks more and more likely Professor Guy McPherson is on the mark of the loss of human habitat due to Climate Change. Just imagine a worldwide crop failure of the main foodstuffs cereals? On top of the financial collapse we are in the middle of currently, armed conflict is all be a certainly!

  2. Sissyfuss on Wed, 24th Jun 2020 8:40 am 

    We are merely getting rid of that pesky ice so we that can acquire more fossil fuels and cook the Earth faster. Humans are planners, the consequences be damned.

  3. FamousDrScanlon on Wed, 24th Jun 2020 9:13 am 

    Shortend, McPherson was always right about habitat loss & in that respect was backed by decades of observation, research & his peers in conservation, wildlife & marine biology, etc.
    It’s his NTHE 2026 where he veers off into wild, attention seeking, speculation based on bad math and/or page views, donations, books & merchandise sales.

    If I’m wagering whether humans will go extinct anytime soon, my money is on yes, but not by 2026. When? Well, I doubt many humans, if any, will be celebrating new years eve 2099. What do I base my estimate on? The universal laws of physics, chemistry & biology (all physics really) & all that is known of meat grinder earth’s history.

    Human extinction is a small matter, it’s the getting there that’ll suck…. for humans. Part of the cycle. Change is the one constant. Change is what the universe does. All that’s required of any species is they consume as much gradient & reproduce to the maximum that their abilities & their environment will allow.

  4. Abraham van Helsing on Wed, 24th Jun 2020 9:13 am 

    Renewable energy transition getting out of hand. Student dorms in Leiden-Netherlands are so well insulated that the “winters” are indeed comfortable, with low heating bills.

    The summer not so much:

    At 40C even the term “bloedheet” (blood hot) has become an understatement (if we ignore corona times).

    The flats have been designed as “black bodies”: radiation IN only.

    For sensitive BLM-readers: this has nothing to do with you. Go pick some cotton or polish a shoe.

  5. SupertardsLivesMatter ZOMFG you guyes MUZZ-19 is codename for operation CONVICT-19 you guyes my neighbor got big testicles because we see this dude everyday we ate ribbbbbbbbbbs with this dude on Wed, 24th Jun 2020 9:56 am 

    i’m sorry ppl hate u a lot.

    i say supertards lives matter

    here to doc scanlon and supergoat

    SLM !

  6. Abraham van Helsing on Wed, 24th Jun 2020 10:23 am 

    JK – I LOVES the Black Man, esp. his DONG.

  7. Abraham van Helsing on Wed, 24th Jun 2020 10:33 am 

    The Netherlands are facing the 3rd or 4th dry year in a row, with considerable water shortages and it becomes obvious that the old way of doing agriculture has had its day in an age of climate change that is ow upon us.

    Working in greenhouses that require very little water will become the norm in food production:

    The next step is moving away from growing food in the soil. In my own garden I am fed-up having to sink on my old knees again to weed and be careful to distinguish between the seedlings and onkruid (“un-kraut”, weed).

    As a first step I have begun growing seeds in a plug:

    That works great; almost every seed is turned into a plant and you can do the seeding from behind your desk.

    The advantage is that you give the plants a “head-start” in life over the weed, as they are 10 cm high when you plant them in the soil.

    This year I bought ca. 200 plastic buckets for vegetable growing. Drill holes in the bottom for drainage, fill the bottom with clay granules, that can store a lot of moist and put garden soil on top of that. The advantage is that your cabbage gets “mobile”, you can move them around, put them in shade or under a netting tent against the cabbage butterfly. Bucket-growing reduces weeding considerable. The disadvantage is that you are toting with watering cans a lot on a hot day.

    But the real kicker is hydroponics. Stop using soil altogether and let the plants expand their roots in nutritious water. That will be the project for next year, something like this:

    With such a setup you can even go on vacation without worries if the water reservoir is big enough.

  8. Davy on Wed, 24th Jun 2020 1:28 pm 

    “The Netherlands are facing the 3rd or 4th dry year in a row, with considerable water shortages and it becomes obvious that the old way of doing agriculture has had its day in an age of climate change that is ow upon us. Working in greenhouses that require very little water will become the norm in food production”

    cloggo, you are oblivious to what agriculture is about. The statement above is ridiculous. You are as bad as Mak the Wak who believes China does not have industrial agriculture. Greenhouses will cover some vegetable supplies but not grains and many types of fruits. Forage will never be economic in a greenhouse.

  9. FamousDrScanlon on Wed, 24th Jun 2020 1:56 pm 

    Thanks, van Helsing. Very informative. Most yeomanlike.

    You’ve clearly demonstrated that white folks is superior gardeners. Probably because the good lord created us with more & better ‘green thumb genes’.

  10. Thanks, van Helsing. Very informative. Most yeomanlike. You’ve clearly demonstrated that white folks is superior gardeners. Probably because the good lord created us with more & better ‘green thumb genes’. on Wed, 24th Jun 2020 2:42 pm 


  11. Annunaki on Thu, 25th Jun 2020 11:47 am 

    It is Nibiru that makes all that fire, as magnetic poles are in process of shifting. East Siberia will be simply closer to the new equator.

    Besides, I would like to remind everyone that gold/AU is a property of gods, i.e. of the planet Nibiru. White man had stolen a lot of gold from our humble servants in Latin America. White man is useless, as he steals gold instead of producing it. White man finally gonna pay for his sacrilege.

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