What if the "Siberian cold" was soon only a distant memory? Just look at the heat wave recorded in June in this polar region to believe: Siberia recorded temperatures 5 ° C above normal, according to data published in early July by the European climate change service Copernicus. They can reach up to 10 ° C above normal in eastern Siberia.
The record was set in the small town of Verkhoyansk, near the Arctic Circle, known to be one of the coldest places on Earth. On June 20, 2020, the mercury was 38 ° C - subject to confirmation by the World Meteorological Organization. At that time, temperatures were around 20 ° C, according to The Weather Channel.
This extreme heat wave in the Russian province is "undoubtedly the most striking weather phenomenon of the year", notes on Twitter Mika Rantanen, researcher on extreme climate change at the Meteorological Institute of Finland. Questioned by France 24, he said that it is long-term since "it started in winter".
The extreme heat in Siberia has been arguably the most remarkable weather event in the world by far in 2020.
According to the latest ERA5 data, some places have been 8 ° C warmer than normal during the first half of the year. pic.twitter.com/FnRIV5GVko
"The thermal energy was not absorbed by the snow"
Scientists are not surprised by the temperature variations over this vast 13 million km² territory - larger than Canada. They have known for a long time that they increase more quickly because of the warm ocean currents that melt the snow.
On the other hand, this year, in addition to global warming, climatologists have noted two natural factors which have accentuated this heat peak. First, an unusually strong polar vortex above the North Pole which has created a mild climate over the entire area. To this must be added a high-pressure system which favored the rise in temperatures in June.
"As it was already warm in the spring, the snowpack melted earlier than usual, says Mika Rantanen. The thermal energy of the summer was therefore not absorbed by the snow and ice. This caused record temperatures. "
The climatologist believes that "we must worry if the phenomenon continues". "We don't yet know if this is a year-long event or the start of something completely new."
Absolutely brutal year for the Siberian Arctic ...
[Left: sea ice | Right: temperature] pic.twitter.com/KioiYdPcpF
In the meantime, this unusual heat is not without consequences for global warming. Huge forest fires have engulfed the region: more than 275,000 hectares have gone up in smoke in the Republic of Sakha, in northeast Siberia, according to the Russian government forestry agency. According to Copernicus, they caused the emission of 59 megatonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere in June, a record since the start of the measurements in 2003.
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🔥Northern Russia is experiencing a second summer of widespread wildfires, some remarkably close to the Arctic Ocean. This Landsat 8 image with an infrared overlay shows active burning about 60 miles inland from the East Siberian Sea. ▫️ ➡️Find imagery at http://ow.ly/1Vgz50ArQ58. ▫️ #usgs #science #landsat # landsat8 #russia #satelliteimagery #nasa #wildfires #fires # 🔥 #arcticocean #arctic
A post shared by US Geological Survey (USGS) (@usgs) on Jul 7, 2020 at 9:01 am PDT
Although the fires fell in intensity in mid-July, 159 fires are still active and threaten 333,000 hectares. For the Greenpeace forest control service in Russia, which is based on data collected by satellite, some 9.26 million hectares have been affected by the fires since the beginning of the year.
Another consequence on the forests of the rise in temperatures: the proliferation of swarms of moths, parasitic butterflies. Their voracious larvae attack conifers and their needles, making them more susceptible to fire. Experts on site are alerting to the "tragic consequences" for the forests.
The melting of permafrost: "It's very serious"
Finally, the rise in mercury in Siberia leads to the melting of permafrost, or permafrost, this layer of ice with a depth sometimes exceeding 1,000 meters and which the Russians call "eternal frost". It is partly responsible for the collapse of the reservoir of a thermal power plant in the Arctic, last June. A total of 20,000 tonnes of oil were spilled in the Ambarnaïa river. An ecological disaster that prompted Russian President Vladimir Putin to launch a state of national emergency.
In the eyes of climatologists, permafrost is perceived as a climatic and health bomb. It releases greenhouse gases that accelerate global warming. But it could also threaten cities to collapse, as Vladimir Putin said last December. "Some of our cities were built north of the Arctic Circle, on the permafrost. If it starts to thaw, you can imagine what the consequences would be. It is very serious."
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