The Arctic is warming faster than anywhere on the planet.
Temperatures at Nizhnyaya Pesha, some 840 miles (1,352 kilometers) northeast of Moscow and just 12 miles from Arctic Ocean coast, reached 86 degrees Fahrenheit (24 degrees Celsius) in early June — a disaster for anyone worried about the planet’s future. Further to the east and further inland, things got even hotter. Russia’s state weather authority confirmed that the temperature at the small town of Verkhoyansk — which sits about 70 miles north of the Arctic Circle and boasts the Pole of Cold District Museum of Local Lore as its only tourist attraction listed on Tripadvisor — hit 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit on June 20.
Most alarming, though, is not the temperature itself, but the fact that this wasn’t an isolated incident. Rather, it is part of a heatwave that has persisted since the end of last year. On average, temperatures in western Siberia have been 10 degrees Fahrenheit above normal since December, according to the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts.
Pekka M. Rossi – Assistant Professor, Ph.D. Water Supply Engineering from the University of Oulu, Faculty of Technology fears that global warming could lead to global problems with water sources.
“For water supply management the main issues that cause concern are the change of seasons: for example if winters are milder the groundwater resources used for drinking water in non-permafrost regions, groundwater being the main drinking water source e.g. in Finland, might not recharge as much from snow melt as has been the case previously. Also, the weather extremes as long droughts and warm temperature periods are a risk for the water supply resources that are expected to be more and more common”, Rossi said Emerging Europe.
His colleague, Professor of Physical Geography University of Oulu Jan Hjort is confident that global warming will affect the Arctic.
“Difficult to say How much does global warming affect human activity in the Arctic because the amount depends on what we are considering (e.g. what kind of land use and human activity), geographical location (what are the environmental conditions) and time scale (season, year, decade or century), but for sure global warming will affect people in the Arctic. If we consider thaw of permafrost, the consequences can be substantial. The thaw of permafrost and the resulting ground subsidence may pose a serious threat to the sustainable development of Arctic communities in the coming decades. For example, three-quarters of the population living in the Northern Hemisphere permafrost region live in risk areas. Moreover, one third of pan-Arctic infrastructure and 45% of the hydrocarbon extraction fields in the Russian Arctic are located in regions of highest risk”, Hjort told Helsinki Times in an interview.
Finnish professor says warming in the Arctic hides many other problems.
“Numerous different issues can be considered and at different scales. Climate change affects nature in many ways and these changes affect humans directly or indirectly. For example, change in ecosystems (e.g. invasive species), snow conditions (e.g. reduced snow cover), water cycle (e.g. floods and water quality problems) and permafrost (e.g. melt of ground ice and ground subsidence) may pose a threat to humans. At a global scale, release of greenhouse gasses from thawing permafrost could speed up climate change and affect the global climate system. At regional and local scales, thaw of permafrost may reduce ecosystems services and goods, which humans are dependent on, and construction and transportation possibilities. In general, damage of critical infrastructure could threaten sustainable development of many Arctic communities (e.g. cause socioeconomic problems; complicate normal life; increase living costs), cause ecosystem disruptions (e.g. oil spills) and/or compromise (safe) utilization of natural resources. Thaw of permafrost may also release microorganisms, which could cause health problems, but the risks related to “thawed” viruses and bacteria are probably small (or very local) compared to many other consequences of global climate warming in the Arctic”, Hjort told.
Scientists say the human fingerprint has rarely, if ever, been clearer. “This is the largest signal we have seen,” said in British newspaper The Guardian commentary Friederike Otto, the acting director of Oxford’s Environmental Change Institute and a co-lead of the World Weather Attribution initiative. “This shows again just how much of a game-changer climate change is with respect to heatwaves. As emissions continue to rise, we need to think about building resilience to extreme heat all over the world, even in Arctic communities – which would have seemed nonsensical not very long ago.”
The need for stronger resilience was evident when melting permafrost and poorly maintained equipment led to one of Russia’s worst oil spills, from a power station near the industrial city of Norilsk, on 29 May.
Prof Olga Zolina, of the Institute of Oceanology in Moscow and another lead author, said in The Guardian the fate of Norilsk could be an indicator of what lies in store for other northern communities. “It means we should do something. This town is very small, with about 1,000 inhabitants. But there are other bigger cities in the Arctic circle. For them the mounting high temperatures are very important.”
Concerns are also growing that the high temperatures are worsening positive feedback loops by melting heat-reflecting ice and increasing the range and intensity of wildfires in Siberia, which is home to the world’s largest forest.
NASA says some embers smoulder through the winter in peatlands and then flare back to life in the spring. The dangers of such “zombie fires” is increased by warmer temperatures. The melting of the tundra also increases the risks of a release of methane, a highly potent greenhouse gas. Since the middle of June, the extent of the fires has more than doubled to more than a million hectares.
The Arctic is warming faster than anywhere on the planet, but the trend towards more extreme conditions is apparent elsewhere. At the start of the year, Australia had unprecedented bushfires and Antarctica registered exceptionally high temperatures.
Some scientists believe this calendar year could break the heat record set in 2016.