By Rowenna Hoskin
A temperature reading of 38C was recorded in the arctic circle on Saturday. A weather station in Verkhoyansk in Siberia logged the temperature and, if verified, it will be the Arctic’s highest recorded temperature in history. This disturbing freak heatwave has been linked to wildfires, a massive oil spill and a plague of Siberian silk moths.
The arctic circle typically experiences one of the most extreme climates in the world, its temperatures ranging from -42C in January to 20C in June.
As Dr Dann Mitchell identifies, “year-on-year temperature records are being broken around the world.” The associate professor in atmospheric science at the university of Bristol adds that “we will see more of this in the near future.”
Scientists believe the Arctic to be warming at double the rate of the global average. This is because ocean currents carry heat towards the poles, meaning that they experience the rest of the planet’s heat as well as their own.
Simon King, a BBC Weather Meteorologist, analysed the weather conditions that would have impacted the Arctic heatwave. He says that a large area of high pressure in eastern Russia has caused winds of warmer air from the tropics to the Arctic.
The impact of warming in the Arctic should not be underrated; the high temperatures are causing the ice to melt, in turn thawing the permafrost layer. This layer is usually permanently frozen and contains carbon dioxide and methane, locked away from the atmosphere. Once the ice melts, these greenhouse gases are released into the Earth’s atmosphere and contribute to the positive feedback loop of global warming.
Not only does the melting of the ice layers release these gases, but the melted ice runs off into the oceans causing the sea level to rise. Again, another positive feedback loop occurs; the reduction in highly reflective ice as it melts means that less of the sun’s rays are reflected back into the atmosphere and more are absorbed by the Earth.
“What’s happening in Siberia this year is nothing short of remarkable,” says Jeff Beradelli, a CBS news meteorologist. He labelled the new record temperature of Verkhoyansk to be symptomatic of “the kind of weather we expect by 2100, 80 years early.”
Martin Stendel of the Danish Meteorological institute said that these abnormal May temperatures in North West Siberia would have happened just once in 100,000 years without human influence having caused global warming.
The rising temperatures also have alarming effects on nature. Swarms of Siberian silk moth have increased in the rising temperatures, the larvae of which eat Conifer trees. Vladimir Soldatov, a moth expert told AFP, “In all my life long career, I’ve never seen moths so huge and growing so quickly.” He warned that this increase in species population would have “tragic consequences for forests as the larvae strip them of their needles, making them more susceptible to forest fires.
“We’ve upset the energy balance of the entire planet” says Chris Rapley, a professor at the University College London. “This is a warning message from the Earth itself, we ignore it at our peril” he adds.
The dire circumstances of climate change are very real, and unless the population acts now – the apocalyptic scenes of science fiction may in fact become our reality. It will take immediate action and global collaboration from governments to shift humanity away from the impending doom of our own making.