Right now, the Arctic is experiencing a disastrous heat wave, with temperatures reaching a record high of 38 °, which means that this month has been warmer than in Barcelona, Los Angeles and Rio de Janeiro. This temperature was recorded in the Russian town of Verkhoyansk, in northeastern Siberia, on Saturday 20 June.
This is not a joke of nature at all; indeed, scientists say that the current heat wave that has hit the Arctic is unprecedented, which reminds us of how urgent the issue of global warming is. Not only that, the rise in temperatures has caused several uncontrolled fires in the region.
Despite the Covid-19 pandemic and protests against racial injustice around the world, we must not forget that we are still in the midst of a climate crisis. Here is everything we need to know about the current Arctic heat wave.
What is causing the heat wave in the Arctic?
Heat waves in the Arctic occur “due to large changes in the northern direction of the jet stream that brings warm air to the far north and keeps it here for days to weeks,” he explains to FashionTrends Jennifer Francis, senior scientist at the Woods Hole Research Center. But with greenhouse gas emissions growing year by year, the air is getting hotter than in the past, consequently increasing the intensity of these waves.
In addition, due to global warming, snow in the Arctic is melting earlier and earlier. “This should uncover a darker surface that absorbs sunlight and heat faster, making the heat wave more intense,” comments Francis.
The current wave compared to those of previous years
Unfortunately, according to reports from the EU’s Copernicus Climate Change Service, in May, the average temperatures in the Arctic region were up to 10 ° above normal. At the beginning of this month, temperatures reached 30 ° in the town of Nizhnyaya Pesha, a significantly higher value than the average of 14 ° typical for this period of the year. Likewise, the 38 degrees recorded in Verkhoyansk are well above the average high temperature of 20 degrees for the month of June and, if confirmed, would beat the previous 37.7 degrees record set in Fort Yukon, Alaska, in 1915.
“Reaching 38 degrees, this heat wave didn’t just break a record, it blew it away,” says Francis. “This wave continues a current trend of rapid overheating in the Arctic regions. The area has experienced very warm temperatures during most of the winter. “
The phenomenon occurs after 2019 had been the second warmest year in the Arctic since 1900 with temperatures that had reached 34.8 ° in the Swedish village of Markusvinsa in July last year.
Fires at Melnichnaya Pad, Russia, May 2019.
© Photography Getty Images
Why are there fires in the Arctic?
In addition to the heat wave, an increasing number of fires observed through satellite images occurred this month and scientists believe that their intensity may be higher than in previous years. But what causes fires? “In general, they are caused by lightning or by humans,” says Jessica McCarty, assistant professor of geography at the University of Miami. “The heat wave makes trees, grass, moss and soil dry out, making them more likely to catch fire and feed it.”
Arctic fires are a problem as they can further aggravate global warming and endanger local wildlife. “Fires that occur near or on permafrost can further deteriorate it, releasing even more powerful greenhouse gases,” continues McCarty. “Once the permafrost has melted, it can dry out and catch fire, causing further burning and melting. It’s a vicious circle. “
What impact can the heat wave have?
We all know that the melting of glaciers leads to sea level rise and that the heat wave we are observing in the Arctic certainly does not help the situation. “The rapid warming and melting of the Arctic is something that affects everyone. It intensifies global warming, accelerates sea level rise and causes changes in weather patterns, “says Francis.
Greenland’s ice caps are melting at a rate seven times faster than in the 1990s while a report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change published in September 2019 reported that sea levels are rising faster than expected, putting the low islands and coastal cities most at risk of flooding.
Rising temperatures in the Arctic pose a huge problem for wildlife that depends on ice, bears for example. In fact, it destroys their habitat and cuts off their food supply. Local communities living in the Arctic circle also suffer significantly as hunting and fishing become more difficult.
A polar bear on the ice in Svalbard, Norway.
© Photography Getty Images
So what can we do?
This is yet another alarm bell that shows us how necessary and urgent it is to tackle the climate crisis. “Everything in our power must be done to slow down the heating and melting of the ice; this will lessen the consequences for local and global communities, “says Francis. Taking a distance from fossil fuels is another essential step: “It means drastically reducing our greenhouse gas emissions and developing technologies that can remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. The knowledge is there, the political will is missing ”.
This means that it is even more important to put pressure on our politicians, both by writing directly to them and, in times of pandemic, by participating in online virtual protests, and by supporting environmental associations such as Greenpeace, WWF and Ocean Conservancy, who are carrying out a campaign for change. One thing is certain: we don’t have much time anymore.