The Arctic summer of 2020 is one that has been marred by wildfires in the Far North, with smoke stretching more than 1,000 miles into the water, along with alarming new records of temperature and ice melting. While rapid Arctic climate change is not exactly news, the region is warming about three times the rest of the world – the manifestations of this phenomenon are increasing in severity, scope and social consequences.
This week, for example, when the outbreaks swept across Siberia, smoke whipped the skies as far as Alaska. In Svalbard, a Norwegian Arctic archipelago that has seen an incredible warming rate in recent years, temperature records were set for all eras, turning already retreating glaciers into fungi, covered in so much turquoise dark water that it was visible from space.
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The Svalbard archipelago is one of the fastest warming places on Earth, with sea ice and declining glaciers. In Longyearbyen, Svalbard, the northernmost settlement, with more than 1,000 residents, temperatures rose to 71.1 degrees (21.7 degrees Celsius) on July 25, setting a record high for this location. Longyearbyen had a four-day chain that exceeded 68 degrees (20 degrees Celsius), a feat seen only once before, in 1979.
At the same location, the low temperature overnight did not fall below 62.2 degrees (16.8 degrees Celsius) on the 25th, setting a record low temperature.
The average high and low temperatures at this time of year in Longyearbyen are 49 (9.4 degrees Celsius) and 41 degrees (5 degrees Celsius).
The Svalbard ice cap has the largest loss of surface mass of any Arctic glacial ice so far in the summer and reached a record of surface snow and melting ice on July 25, when the temperature rose , said Xavier Fettweis, a scientist at the University of Liege, Belgium.
Meltwater seen on the Svalbard ice sheet, comparing images from July 27, 2019 to July 27, 2020. (European Union, Copernicus Sentinel-2 images processed by Annamaria Luongo)
Arctic fire emission figures were recorded
While the extreme temperatures of Siberia (including a likely Arctic temperature record of 100.4 degrees (38 centimeters) recorded in June in Verkhoyansk, located above the Arctic Circle), have received the most attention, they are forest fires that have ripple effects so far. beyond this region. These fires have continued their relentless pace since June.
Every day, the smoke, which contains greenhouse gases heating the planet, has poured into the air, while on the ground the flames have destabilized the permafrost by burning the protective vegetation above the permanently frozen ground. This also adds to climate change as it releases carbon and methane.
Comparison of images of glaciers in Svalbard, Norway, on July 27, 2019 versus July 27, 2020. (European Union, Copernicus Sentinel-2 images processed by Annamaria Luongo)
For many days, in July, a glow of smoke thick enough to darken the ground was visible in satellite images that stretched across an area that would cover much of the lower 48 states. The most serious fires have been accompanied by puffs of smoke, known as pyrocumulonimbus clouds or pyroCbs.
Carbon emissions from the Arctic forest fire, driven mainly by Siberian fires, reached a record high in July, according to the Copernicus Atmoshere Monitoring Service, a European Union scientific agency based in Reading, England. This figure goes back 18 years, with an increase in Arctic fire emissions during this period.
Between July 1 and 23, estimates of total carbon emissions from fires in the Siberian Arctic amount to 100 metric megatons of carbon dioxide, said Mark Parrington, a senior scientist in the Siberian Arctic Monitoring Service. Copernicus atmosphere, by e – mail. Parrington said he is at the top of the 59 metric megatons of carbon dioxide emitted by the Arctic Circle fires in June.
“The large cluster of fires within the Siberian Arctic Circle has been burning with high intensity for seven days (higher than the highest daily total calculated for the region in 2019) and appears to be continuing,” Parrington said last Friday. , a prediction. which has turned out to be true.
Parrington said on Twitter on Wednesday: “July 2020 has witnessed an escalation in Arctic fires that were not seen before” in data collected by Copernicus’ Atmosphere Monitoring Service. Parrington said satellite-stimulated carbon emissions, according to the satellite, are double what was seen during the previous Arctic fire season, which was last year.
The smoke from these fires, including ash and carbon monoxide, spread across the Chukchi Sea to Alaska.
Siberia has experienced a record warmth of the calendar year so far. Siberian fires and, in particular, prolonged heat have already been directly linked to man-made climate change.
In a quick analysis, the researchers found that prolonged heat from January to June in northern Siberia was produced at least 600 times more likely by man-made climate change. This led them to conclude that such an event would be almost impossible in the absence of global warming.
In addition, other parts of the Arctic are emerging from the effects related to climate change, along with transient meteorological features.
Meanwhile, extreme temperatures in the Scandinavian Arctic and Siberia have also spread to northern Canada. On July 25, a temperature of 71.4 degrees was recorded in Eureka, Nunavut, located in the Canadian Arctic at 80 degrees north latitude. According to Mika Rantanen, a researcher at the Finnish Meteorological Institute, it is possible that it is the highest temperature recorded to the north.
In an example of how extreme weather events may interact with trends related to long-term climate change, a strong low-pressure zone was turned earlier this week over the Beaufort Sea in northern Alaska. which could precipitate sea ice melting. The low is reminiscent of a powerful storm that caused the sea ice cover during the summer 2012 melting season. This storm helped accelerate ice loss, causing an all-weather glacial spread.
Although of similar intensity, the recent storm is likely to have the same effects on the trajectory of the melting season, according to sea ice experts. While observing that the extent of sea ice is in record-breaking territory, the storm ravaged a region full of the thickest Arctic ice. Most of this summer’s ice loss has occurred on the Eurasian side of the Arctic, including northern Siberia, where the North Sea Route most likely opened on the first recorded date, a more complete than average.
“The key really is to synchronize the storm and the thickness of the ice that is there,” said Julienne Stroeve, a senior scientist at the National Data Snow and Ice Center (NSIDC) in Boulder, Colo.
There is a possibility that the storm may accelerate the melting of the ice, but it depends on several factors.
“Because storms often cause ice divergence, if the storm pushes some of the ice into the Beaufort [Sea] towards [the] The Bering Strait is then likely to melt, as ocean temperatures are up to 5 degrees Celsius warmer than average, ”said Stroeve.
Walt Meier, a colleague at Stroeve’s NSIDC, noted that the 2012 storm occurred later in the melting season and in a region where ice cover was already broken and quite scattered (low concentration). So there was a lot of opportunity for the storm to hit waves and for the ice to actually fall in. This year, the ice in that region, at least for now, looks more formidable.It’s more compact and probably thicker. this year may not have the same impact as in 2012. We’ll see. ”
The bottom line
Almost uniformly, scientists studying Arctic warming highlight how rapid changes are taking place across the vast region. A study published Wednesday in Nature Climate Change confirms this impression, showing that “significant portions” of the region are warming at a rate of 1.8 degrees (1 centigrade) per decade for 40 years, making it an “event of sudden climate change “. when visualized in the light of paleoclimate records of sudden glacial episodes of the past.
The study found that even the worst-case climate model scenarios tend to underestimate the recent pace and extent of climate change in the Arctic. Co-author Martin Stendel, a scientist at the Danish Meteorological Institute, wrote in a Twitter message that “[a]Sudden dditional changes can only be avoided after a low-emission scenario. ”