On June 20, the temperature reached a record 38°C in Belhoyansk, a Town in Siberia, Russia, located in the Arctic Circle. Don’t take this as just a sudden event. Scientists say the record is a testament to the rapid hotness of the earth and shows that the Arctic will become more and more accelerating in the future.
“We’ve warned for a long time that extreme weather like heatwaves is going to be more frequent, but it seems to be happening faster than we thought,” said Ruth Motram, a weather scientist at the Danish Meteorological Institute.
This is the first time that 38°C has been observed since recording began in Belhoyansk in 1885. What’s more, it wasn’t a temporary heat. The heat wave that caused it is expected to last at least another week.
The Arctic has never experienced high temperatures in the past. Apart from the cool seaside, temperatures can spike in the interior in summer. Fort Yukon, Alaska, USA, recorded 37.7 degrees Celsius for the first time in 1915. In Belhoyansk, there was a day of 37.3 degrees Celsius in 1988.
Walt Meyer, climate scientist at the National Snow and Ice Data Center, said, “In the Arctic, the sun will remain up all day before and after the summer solstice every summer. Because a lot of sunlight falls, it can be considerably hot.”
But Meyer says climate change is spurring high temperatures. The Arctic is warming more than twice as fast as the rest of the Earth. Temperatures have risen by 2 to 3 degrees Celsius over the past 100 years. About 0.75°C of these is the rise over the past decade. In other words, if a heat wave occurs where it is warmer than before, the heat will become even more severe.
The intense heat of June occurred when several powerful elements overlapped. First of all, the standard value of the temperature was rising by climate change. According to the Copernicus Climate Change Service, which is run by a European Union research institute, western Siberia experienced the warmest spring in history this year. The average temperature since December was nearly 6°C higher than the average temperature between 1979 and 2019.
Going back to 1880, there was probably no year with such a high average temperature. Normally, the average temperature in May is 1°C, but this year it was around 10°C above that. It is a phenomenon that should only occur once every 100,000 years without the effects of human factors.
“I thought it was really strange and watched. I can’t believe that the temperatures will last so high all over Siberia for such a long time. As January passed and the situation still remained the same in March and April,” said Ivana Sviyanovic, a climate scientist at the Barcelona Supercomputing Centre, a Spanish research institute.
As a result of long-term high temperatures, the snow covering the siberian land has melted as early as usual. Pure white snow reflects the heat of the sun and serves to maintain a cold climate, but once the snow disappears, dark-colored soil and plants quickly absorb the sun’s heat.
The weather conditions overlapped with this, and a huge high pressure protruded into the sky of western Siberia, and it did not move as it was. Because of this, the cloudless sky spread, and the sunlight fell directly on the land of Siberia without being blocked.
“It was as if the oven was sitting in the sky, and the air was trapped. The longer the air stays, the higher the temperature will rise,” Mayer explains.
The effects of such high-temperature phenomena have recently come to be seen in various parts of the Arctic Circle. In 2012, 97% of the ice sheet surface melted in Greenland, and ice and water were mixed. In 2016, it rained in Svalbard, Norway, rather than snow during the winter. In the summer of 2019, the thaw period of the ice sheet in Greenland lasted for three months longer than usual, and a large amount of molten water flowed into the sea.
There has been intense debate as to whether such a prolonged high temperature is due to climate change. However, there is no doubt that abnormal weather will increase in the Arctic in the future. The Paris Agreement has an international goal of keeping temperatures from less than 2 degrees Celsius since the Industrial Revolution, but the arctic’s average winter temperature has already exceeded this standard. The average annual temperature is also expected to exceed the standard in a few decades.
According to the most extreme scenario, these extreme weather will happen almost every year by 2100, says Robert Rose, a climate scientist at Berkeley Earth, a U.S. research institute.
A similar phenomenon is also occurring at the South Pole. In January, summer in the southern hemisphere, 18.3 degrees Celsius was observed at an observatory on the Antarctic Peninsula. (Reference article: “Unprecedented over 20°C in the Antarctic Peninsula, but there is a possibility that it will not become an official record”)
Global warming in the Arctic is rapidly advanced due to a phenomenon called “polar amplification.” In the past, sea ice, which covered most of the Arctic Ocean, reflected sunlight in the same way as snow and bounced heat back into space.
However, when the sea ice decreases by global warming and a deep-sea level appear, a lot of heat comes to be absorbed in the sea. If the sea temperature rises, it becomes difficult to make new sea ice, and it falls into a vicious circle of absorbing the heat of the sun further.
Damage has already occurred due to the intense heat this year. In June this year, an accident occurred in Siberia in which a fuel tank was damaged and 20,000 tons of fuel flowed into a nearby river. The cause of the damage is believed to be because the permafrost melts and the ground becomes unstable.
Most of Russia’s Arctic circle is covered with permafrost. Beneath the layer of ice, carbon-rich peat soil is frozen almost all year round. It’s not hard to imagine that if the heat melts the permafrost, there will be irreparable changes.
An accident of the fuel tank is not a one-off story at all. Experts warn that by 2050, thousands of kilometers of pipelines, roads, buildings, fuel tanks, oil fields, airports, and all other Arctic infrastructures will be at risk by the melting of permafrost.
Forest fires are also getting worse. Because of the warmer spring than usual, the soil and plants are dry and flammable. According to the Russian Forest Service, the fire had already spread to 49,000 square kilometers in the first half of June.