First temperatures rocketed, now zombies have it in for the Arctic

A record 37ºC was recorded on June 21 in northeastern Russia, say scientists.
Image: 123RF/ mtellioglu

Temperatures soared 10ºC above average in June across much of permafrost-laden Siberia, with last month in a dead heat for the warmest June on record globally, the European Union’s (EU) climate-monitoring network said on Tuesday.

An Arctic hourly temperature record for the month, 37ºC, was set on June 21 near Verkhoyansk in northeastern Russia, where a weather station logged a blistering 38ºC on the same day, the Copernicus Climate Change Service (C3S) reported.

The hourly record, averaged across 60 minutes, was one to two degrees above previously registered Arctic highs in 1969 and 1973.

Freakishly warm weather across large swathes of Siberia since January, combined with low soil moisture, have contributed to a resurgence of wildfires that devastated the region last summer, C3S reported.

The number and intensity of fires in Siberia and parts of Alaska have increased since mid-June, resulting in the highest carbon emissions for the month, 59 million tons of CO2, since records began in 2003.

“Last year was already by far an unusual, and record, summer for fires in the Arctic Circle,” said Mark Parrington, senior scientist at the EU’s Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service (CAMS), warning of “intense activity” in the coming weeks.

Copernicus said “zombie” blazes that smouldered through the winter may have reignited.

Globally, June 2020 was more than half a degree Celsius warmer than the 1981 to 2010 average for the same month, and on a par with June 2019 as the warmest ever registered.

Siberia and the Arctic Circle are prone to large year-on-year temperature fluctuations, but the persistence of this year’s warm spell is very unusual, said C3S director Carlo Buontempo.

“What is worrisome is that the Arctic is warming faster than the rest of the world,” he said in a statement.

Across the Arctic region, average temperatures have risen by more than 2ºC since the mid-19th century, twice the global average.

Despite lower-than-average temperatures in its western reaches, the whole of Siberia, larger than the US and Mexico combined, was more than 5ºC above normal for June, according to C3S satellite data.

The softening of once-solid permafrost, stretching across Siberia, Alaska and northern Canada, has upended indigenous communities and threatens industrial infrastructure, especially in Russia.

A huge diesel spill into rivers near the city of Norilsk, Russia, resulted when a tank at a power plant built on melting permafrost collapsed in late May.

“Widespread permafrost thaw is projected for this century,” the UN’s climate science panel, the IPCC, said in a landmark report last year on the world’s cryosphere, or frozen zones.

“The majority of Arctic infrastructure is located in regions where permafrost thaw is projected to intensify by mid-century.”

Soils in the permafrost region across Russia, Alaska and Canada hold twice as much carbon, mostly in the form of methane and CO2, as the atmosphere, more than 1.4 trillion tons.

One ton of carbon is equivalent to 3.65 tons of carbon dioxide.


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