The Arctic is warming twice as fast as the rest of the world, but this year’s temperatures have still taken scientists by surprise

When we see events such as these temperatures in the far north, it only adds to the argument that we have to significantly accelerate our efforts to mitigate GHG emissions. Madeleine Cuff writes on the inews website about the current situation.


Arctic Circle weather: What a record 38C temperature in the far north means for the rest of the world

Temperatures within the Arctic Circle have hit record levels this week amid a Siberian heatwave that has left scientists fearful climate change is spiralling out of control in the region.

In the Russian town of Verkhoyansk temperatures reached 38C on Saturday, which if verified would easily beat the previous temperature record of 34.8C, recorded in Sweden last year.

Scientists broadly agree this isn’t normal – temperatures in Verkhoyansk usually only reach about 20C in June.

Lengthy heatwave

The temperature spike follows weeks of unusually warm weather in the region. Between January and May the average temperature in north-central Siberia has been about 8C above average, according to the climate science non-profit organisation Berkeley Earth.

On June 19, the land surface temperature hit 45C in several Arctic Circle locations, European satellites have confirmed.

Arctic on fire

The Arctic is warming twice as fast as the rest of the world, but this year’s temperatures have still taken scientists by surprise

“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,” said Jonathan Overpeck, a climate scientist at the University of Michigan. “The record warming in Siberia is a warning sign of major proportions.”

Scientists have good reason to be worried. As well as fierce forest fires, warmer weather causes carbon sinks in Arctic wetlands, forests and soil to break down and release emissions, further accelerating climate change around the world.

“Methane escaping from permafrost thaw sites enters the atmosphere and circulates around the globe,” explained Katey Walter Anthony, an ecologist from the University of Alaska Fairbanks. “Methane that originates in the Arctic does not stay in the Arctic. It has global ramifications.”

Global consequences

If Arctic keeps warming, and the permafrost keeps thawing, scientists fear runaway climate change will become unstoppable. That could bring catastrophic consequences for the rest of the planet, with countries swamped by rising sea levels, burned by widespread wildfires, and left starving from failed harvests.

Thawing permafrost also poses more a immediate challenge for those living and working in the Arctic Circle. Power plants, buildings and factories are all built on frozen ground that is now starting to melt.

Last month a diesel fuel tank at a Russian power plant collapsed, leaking 20,000 tons of red diesel into the soil and nearby Ambarnaya river. The plant’s owners Nornickel said the accident could have been caused by the thawing permafrost destabilising the foundations.

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