Arctic summer 2020 is marked by fierce fires in the Far North, with smoke stretching more than 1,000 miles in the wind, along with alarming new temperature records and ice melting. Although rapid climate change in the Arctic is not exactly new – the region is warming to about three times the rate of the rest of the world – the effects of this phenomenon are growing in severity, scale and societal consequences.
For example, this week, when flames erupted in Siberia, smoke suffocated the sky to parts of Alaska. In the Norwegian Arctic archipelago of Svalbard, which has experienced an astonishing rate of warming in recent years, records of all temperatures have been set, turning already receding glaciers into a slurry covered with so many turquoise melts visible from space.
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The Svalbard archipelago is one of the fastest warming places on Earth, with a drop in sea ice and glaciers. In Longyearbyen in Svalbard, the northernmost inhabited settlement with more than 1,000 inhabitants, the temperature rose to 71.1 degrees (21.7 degrees Celsius) on July 25, a record for the area. Longyearbyen had a string of four days, which in 1979 exceeded 68 degrees (20 degrees Celsius).
At the same location, the overnight night temperature did not fall below 62.2 degrees (16.8 degrees Celsius) on day 25, setting a record for the warmest low temperature.
The average high and low temperatures for this time in Longyearbyen are 49 (9.4 degrees Celsius) and 41 degrees (5 degrees Celsius)
The Svalbard ice cap has the highest surface loss of any Arctic ice sheet so far this summer and set a record for surface snow and ice melting on July 25 as temperatures rose, said Xavier Fettweis, a scientist at the University of Liège, Belgium.
Meltwater seen on the Svalbard Iceberg, comparing images from 27 July 2019 with 27 July 2020. (European Union images, Copernicus Sentinel-2 images taken by Annamaria Luongo)
Arctic fire emissions have been determined
While the extreme temperatures in Siberia – including the likely record Arctic temperature record of 100.4 degrees (38 degrees Celsius) recorded in Verkhojansk, which lies above the Arctic Circle, have received the most attention, there are fires that have far-flung effects. behind this region. These fires have continued at a relentless pace since June.
Every day, smoke containing greenhouse gases warming the planet is poured into the air, while on earth the flames destabilize permafrost by burning the protective vegetation over the permanently frozen soil. It also contributes to climate change by releasing carbon and methane.
Comparison of images of glaciers in Svalbard, Norway on 27 July 2019 compared to 27 July 2020. (European Union images, Copernicus Sentinel-2 images processed by Annamaria Luongo)
For many days in July, milk smoke strong enough to cover the ground was visible in satellite images spanning the area that covered most of the Lower 48 states. The most severe fires were accompanied by soaring smoke clouds, known as pyrocumulonimbus clouds or pyroCbs.
According to the Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service, a scientific agency of the European Union based in Reading, England, there were record levels of carbon dioxide emissions from a fire caused mainly by Siberian fires in July. These figures are extended by 18 years, during which time an increase in Arctic fire emissions has been observed.
From July 1 to July 23, estimated total carbon emissions from fires in the Siberian Arctic in July are 100 metric megatons of carbon dioxide, said Mark Parrington, a researcher at Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service. Parrington said it was 59 metric megatons of carbon dioxide emitted by fires in the Arctic Circle in June.
“A large group of fires in the Siberian Arctic Circle is burning very intensely (higher than the highest daily total calculated for the region in 2019) for several days and seems set to continue,” Parrington said last Friday. it turned out to be true.
On Twitter on Wednesday, Parrington said: “In July 2020, there was an escalation in the case of Arctic fires that had not been previously detected” in data collected by Copernicus Atmospheric Monitoring. Parrington said satellite estimates of carbon dioxide emissions from the fire were doubling compared to the previous record period of the Arctic fire last year.
Smoke from these fires, including ash and carbon monoxide, spread across the Chukchi Sea to Alaska.
Siberia has so far recorded record heat for the calendar year. Siberian fires, and especially long-term heat, have already been directly linked to man-made climate change.
According to a quick analysis, the researchers found that the long period from January to June in northern Siberia was caused by man-made climate change at least 600 times. This led them to conclude that such an event would be almost impossible without global warming.
In addition, other parts of the Arctic are becoming a consequence of climate change and transient weather conditions.
Meanwhile, extreme temperatures in the Scandinavian Arctic and Siberia have spread to northern Canada. On July 25, a temperature of 71.4 degrees was recorded at Eureka in Nunavut, located at 80 degrees north latitude in the Canadian Arctic. According to Mika Rantanen, a researcher at the Finnish Meteorological Institute, the highest temperature so far may be recorded to the north.
As an example of how extreme weather events can interact with long-term climate change trends, a strong low-pressure region is developing over the Beaufort Sea, north of Alaska earlier this week, potentially accelerating the melting of sea ice cover. The low level is reminiscent of a severe storm that melted the sea ice cover during the 2012 summer season. This storm helped accelerate the loss of ice, which led to a record low level of ice.
Although the recent storm is of similar intensity, it is unlikely to have the same effect on the melting trajectory, sea ice experts said. Despite the extent of sea ice in record low territory, the storm hit an area full of the coarsest ice in the Arctic. The largest loss of ice this summer occurred on the Eurasian side of the Arctic, including the northern part of Siberia, where the northern sea route most likely opened as soon as possible, a month earlier than average.
“The key is really the timing of the storm and the thickness of the ice that’s there,” said Julienne Stroeve, a researcher at the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) in Boulder, in an e-mail.
It is possible that a storm could accelerate the melting of ice, but it depends on many factors.
“Because storms tend to cause ice divergence if a storm pushes part of the ice in Beaufort.” [Sea] towards [the] The Bering Strait is then likely to melt because ocean temperatures are up to 5 ° C warmer than average, ”said Stroeve.
Walt Meier, an NSIDC associate at Stroeve’s, noted that the 2012 storm hit later in the melting season and “in an area where the ice sheet had already disintegrated and been quite dispersed (low concentration).” The storm thus had many opportunities to kick off the waves and actually decimate the ice. This year, the ice in this area looks worse, at least for now. It is more compact and probably coarser. Therefore, this year’s storm may not have the same effect as in 2012. We’ll see. ”
Scientists working on Arctic warming are almost unanimously emphasizing how fast change is taking place in a large region. A study published on Wednesday in Nature on climate change confirms this impression and shows that the “main parts” of the region are warming at a rate of 1.8 degrees (1 ° C) in ten years over 40 years, which represents a “sudden change in climate”. looking at paleoclimatic records of sudden glacial episodes in the past.
The study found that even the dirtiest climate scenarios tend to underestimate the recent pace and extent of climate change in the Arctic. Co-author Martin Stendel, a researcher at the Danish Meteorological Institute, wrote via Twitter that “[a]Additional abrupt changes can only be avoided in the case of a low-emission scenario. ”