arctic heat

High temperature seems scorching the Arctic. The United Nations logged the hottest temperature in history in the Arctic, finding that the Russian town of Verkhoyansk hit 38 degrees Celsius (100.4 Fahrenheit) in the summer of 2020.

The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) announced the record heat in Verkhoyansk in a Tuesday press release, explaining that a meteorological station in the region completed the research.

The news confirmed fears of potential record-setting temperatures in the Arctic after 2020 was reported to be one of the hottest years on record.

“This new Arctic record is one of a series of observations reported to the WMO Archive of Weather and Climate Extremes that sound the alarm bells about our changing climate,” Petteri Taalas, the organization’s secretary-general, said in a statement.

The average temperature in the Siberian Arctic climbed as high as 10 degrees Celsius (50 degrees Fahrenheit) last year, according to the WMO, sparking massive wildfires and drastic sea ice loss.

The Siberian town, about 70 miles from the Arctic circle, is one of the coldest places on the planet. But the temperature record confirms that the most remote, northern regions of the world, known for freezing temperatures, are warming fast under climate change.

“The extremes presented before the WMO for adjudication are ‘snapshots’ of our current climate,” WMO wrote in the press release. “It is possible, indeed likely, that greater extremes will occur in the Arctic region in the future.”

The Arctic is already the fastest warming region of the world, heating at twice the global average. Melting sea ice in the Arctic has worried climatologists for years, and the Arctic will likely shift toward a rain-dominated climate before the end of the century.

Since the summer of 2020, Verkhoyansk was feared to have recorded the hottest temperature in the Arctic, with meteorologists speculating to Vox that the temperature record would be a 1-in-100,000 year event if not for climate change.

The WMO is looking to verify temperature records in other places, including the hottest region in the world, Death Valley, Calif., which may have recorded the hottest temperature of 129 degrees Fahrenheit in 2020 and 2021.

Ships Leaving Garbage In Their Wake

A Reuters report from Anchorage, Alaska said:

Scientists have warned Tuesday of a new scourge hitting the Arctic region: marine trash.

With the region warming twice as fast as the rest of the world, sea ice that has long blanketed the Arctic Ocean is disappearing, opening new routes to shipping. Scientists began noticing the trash bobbing in the icy water or piling up on Alaska Bering Strait-area beaches last year.

“That is a direct result of increased human maritime activities,” said climate scientist Rick Thoman of the Alaska Center for Climate Assessment and Policy, one of the lead editors of the 2021 Arctic Report Card released by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

The garbage shows “what climate change is allowing people to do in the region,” he said. Russian was the most common language on debris found in the Bering Strait on items where language could be identified, NOAA has said.

Between 2016 and 2019, voyages by fishing, cargo and military ships jumped 58% along the region’s busiest lane along the Siberian coast, and experts say the traffic will rise further as global temperatures continue to climb.

Noise

With the shipping traffic also comes noise. Underwater soundscapes in the Arctic have become rowdier with the rumble of ships passing, a problem for marine mammals who rely on sound to navigate and socialize, Thoman said.

The annual report, released at the conference of the American Geophysical Union, noted a new springtime sea ice record low in 2021, among other signs that climate change is fast transforming the region.

This year also saw the first rainfall on record over Greenland’s highest elevation.

“People who are living in the Arctic are already experiencing major challenges,” said report co-author Anna Liljedahl, a climate scientist with the Woodwell Climate Research Center.

Warmer And Greener 

By most annual metrics, 2021 was not an extraordinary year for Arctic warming. But it fit squarely with the trend of warming well beyond the rate of the global average. Average air temperatures were the seventh warmest on record over the last year, but hit a record high for the fall season of 2020, the report said.

And while the annual sea ice minimum in September was the 12th lowest on record, scientists noted that all 15 of the lowest minimums have occurred in the last 15 years.

“The loss of the great white cap that once covered the top of the world is one of the most iconic indicators of climate change,” said Rick Spinrad, the NOAA administrator.

Meanwhile, thawing permafrost and melting glaciers are undermining infrastructure and damaging livelihoods, the report warned. Especially worrying are landslides from once-frozen coastal cliffsides or mountains that now threaten to trigger tsunamis, as happened in 2017 in western Greenland, where a landslide-triggered tsunami at Karrat Fjord killed four people.

The last two summers also displayed exceptional “greenness” on the Arctic tundra – a measure of plant productivity. The greenness measure for the summer of 2020 was the highest on record, and preliminary data suggest that 2021 had the second-highest greenness, according to the report.

The five highest tundra greening years on record have all occurred in the last 10 years.

That greening comes with consequences, not least the appearance of more beavers whose dam-building results creates ponds that result in even more thawing, the report said.

“Almost anytime you pool water on the tundra, put a new pond in place, you are going to begin to rapidly thaw the permafrost surrounding it,” said Ken Tape, one of the report’s authors. It is still unclear how much beaver activity might contribute to the release of carbon dioxide and methane from the once-frozen ground.

Record Highs, Rain And Beaver Damage in Arctic

The Arctic continues to deteriorate from global warming, not setting as many records this year as in the past, but still changing so rapidly that federal scientists call it alarming in their annual Arctic report card.

The 16th straight health check for the northern polar region spotlighted the first ever rainfall at Greenland summit station, record warm temperatures between October and December 2020, and the new problem of expansion of beavers in the Arctic.

“The trends are consistent, alarming and undeniable,” U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration chief Rick Spinrad said presenting the findings by 111 scientists from 12 countries at the American Geophysical Union conference Tuesday. “The loss of the great white cap that once covered the top of the world is one of the most iconic indicators of climate change.”

“The Arctic is Earth’s air conditioning,” Spinrad said. “Billions of people rely on its moderating influence on climate. We have a narrow window of time to avoid very costly, deadly and irreversible future climate impacts.”

The 2020-2021 polar year — scientists study the Arctic on a yearly basis from October to September — was only the 7th warmest on record. However, October to December in 2020 set a record for the warmest autumn.

This report card comes out as the Arctic warms two to three times faster than the rest of the planet. The region’s melting ice opens the door to more pressures, including the potential for more oil and gas drilling and more mining and more tensions between countries wanting to exploit the area. For the people who live there, it means having to adapt to a ground that is getting softer as permafrost melts and changes to traditional hunting and fishing.

“It is really tough for us to live up there, let alone thrive,” said report co-author Kaare Sikuaq Erickson, a community science liaison from the Bering Sea village of Unalakleet.

When sea ice hit its annual minimum in September for how far it extends, it was only the 12th lowest on record. But the rarer thick sea ice, which stays around for more than a year, was the second lowest at the end of the summer since records began in 1985, reflecting a problem in the more crucial type of ice for the Arctic.

“The sea ice loss in the Bering Sea is extremely, extremely scary,” Erickson said. “It’s an ecosystem collapse situation. I think the sea ice loss in my region is probably the biggest concern.”

Report editor Twila Moon, a scientist at the National Snow and Ice Data Center, said people may think “if something is not setting a brand new record, then it’s going pretty well. And that is not true.”

The Arctic is on a roller coaster of acceptable conditions and horrible ones, Moon said, pointing to Greenland.

“If you had asked me in early July how we’re doing for the Greenland ice sheet, I would have given you two thumbs up. We were having, surprisingly, what felt like a normal year,” Moon said. “And then we had these really extreme melt events coming in late July and in August, creating brand new records, giving us rainfall observed at the summit of Greenland for the first time ever.”

It is usually so cold there that precipitation always had fallen as snow.

Another weird situation was the expansion of beavers into western Alaska, something Moon called “stunning.” There are more than 12,000 dams there, double the amount from two decades ago.

Beavers are a problem because they dam an area causing more water to pool on the surface, which enhances permafrost thaw, making roads, airports, pipelines and structures less stable, Moon said. It’s changed where fish and even beluga whales live, Erickson said.

“It is a real transformation or disruption of the existing ecosystem,” Moon said.

Climate Change Worsened Weather Extremes In 2021

Reuters identified weather extremes in 2021.

A Reuters report said:

Extreme weather events in 2021 shattered records around the globe. Hundreds died in storms and heatwaves. Farmers struggled with drought, and in some cases with locust plagues. Wildfires set new records for carbon emissions, while swallowing forests, towns and homes.

Many of these events were exacerbated by climate change. Scientists say there are more to come – and worse – as the Earth’s atmosphere continues to warm through the next decade and beyond.

Following are some of the events Reuters witnessed over the past year:

February — A blistering cold spell hit normally warm Texas, killing 125 people in the state and leaving millions without power in freezing temperatures.

Scientists have not reached a conclusion on whether climate change caused the extreme weather, but the warming of the Arctic is causing more unpredictable weather around the globe.

February — Kenya and other parts of East Africa battled some of the worst locust plagues in decades, with the insects destroying crops and grazing grounds. Scientists say that unusual weather patterns exacerbated by climate change created ideal conditions for insects to thrive.

March — Beijing’s sky turned orange and flights were grounded during the Chinese capital’s worst sandstorm in a decade.

Busloads of volunteers arrive in the desert each year to plant trees, which can stabilize the soil and serve as a wind buffer. Scientists predict climate change will worsen desertification, as hotter summers and drier winters reduce moisture levels.

June — Nearly all of the western United States was gripped by a drought that emerged in early 2020. Farmers abandoned crops, officials announced emergency measures, and the Hoover Dam reservoir hit an all-time low.

By September, the U.S. government confirmed that over the prior 20 months, the Southwest experienced the lowest precipitation in over a century, and it linked the drought to climate change.

June — Hundreds died during a record-smashing heatwave in the U.S. and Canadian Pacific Northwest, which scientists concluded would have been “virtually impossible” without climate change.

Over several days, power lines melted and roads buckled. Cities, struggling to cope with the heat, opened cooling centers to protect their residents. During the heatwave, Portland, Oregon, hit an all-time record high of 116 Fahrenheit (46.7 Celsius).

July — Catastrophic flooding killed more than 300 people in central China’s Henan province when a year’s worth of rain fell in just three days.

In Europe, nearly 200 people died as torrential rains soaked Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands. Scientists concluded that climate change had made the floods 20% more likely to occur.

July — A record heatwave and drought in the U.S. West gave rise to two massive wildfires that tore through California and Oregon and were among the largest in the history of both states.

Scientists say both the growing frequency and the intensity of wildfires are largely attributable to prolonged drought and increasing bouts of excessive heat from climate change.

July — Large parts of South America are suffering from a prolonged drought. While Chile is enduring a decade-long megadrought linked to global warming, this year Brazil saw one of its driest years in a century.

In Argentina, the Parana, South America’s second-longest river, fell to its lowest level since 1944.

Around the globe, heatwaves are becoming both more frequent and more severe.

August — In the Mediterranean, a hot and dry summer fanned intense blazes that forced thousands of people to evacuate their homes in Algeria, Greece and Turkey.

The fires, which killed two people in Greece and at least 65 in Algeria, struck amid an intense heatwave, with some places in Greece recording temperatures of over 46 Celsius (115 Fahrenheit).

Late August — Nearly all the world’s mountain glaciers are retreating due to global warming. In the Alps, Swiss resort employees laid protective blankets over one of Mount Titlis’s glaciers during the summer months to preserve what ice is left.

Switzerland already has lost 500 of its glaciers, and could lose 90% of the 1,500 that remain by the end of the century if global emissions continue to rise, the government said.

August/September — Hurricane Ida, which hit Louisiana as a Category 4 storm, killed nearly 100 people in the United States and caused an estimated $64 billion in damage, according to the NOAA National Centers for Environmental Information.

As the remnants of Ida moved inland, the heavy rains created flash flooding across the densely populated Northeast, vastly increasing the storm’s death toll.

Climate change is strengthening hurricanes, while also causing them to linger longer over land – dumping more rain on an area before moving on. Studies also suggest these storms are becoming more frequent in the North Atlantic.

September — Infrastructure and homes in Russia are increasingly in peril as underground permafrost melts and deforms the land underneath them.

Permafrost was once a stable construction base, in some regions staying frozen as far back as the last Ice Age. But rising global temperatures threaten the layer of ice, soil, rocks, sand and organic matter.

November — The worst floods in 60 years in South Sudan have affected about 780,000 people, or one in every 14 residents, according to the UN refugee agency. Every year the county goes through a rainy season, but flooding has set records for three years in a row. The destruction will likely increase as temperatures rise, scientists say.

November — A massive storm dumped a month’s worth of rain over two days in the Canadian province of British Columbia, unleashing floods and mudslides that destroyed roads, railroads and bridges. It is likely the most expensive natural disaster in Canada’s history, although officials are still assessing the damage.

Meteorologists said the rain had come from an atmospheric river, or a stream of water vapor stretching hundreds of miles long from the tropics. Atmospheric rivers are expected to become larger — and possibly more destructive — with climate change, scientists say.


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