Siberia heatwave: Fears of 'irreversible' permafrost melt as Russian village sees record temperatures
A record temperature of 38 ° C was recorded in the arctic city of Verkhoyansk on Saturday, June 20
Verkhoyansk, the northernmost city in the Arctic, is one of the coldest inhabited places on earth and regularly records some of the lowest temperatures in the world.
This week, however, it hit the headlines when it hit an oppressive temperature of 38 ° C, the highest temperature since records began 150 years ago.
The locals are used to swinging between extreme temperatures, with summers regularly reaching 30 ° C. However, that was different, said Ayta Baisheva, who works on one of the region's many reindeer farms, about 250 kilometers south of Verkhoyansk.
"We saw a crazy heat wave. It is really hard for us to endure this heat, ”said Ms. Baisheva, who recently returned from northern Yakutia near Verkhoyansk, where her husband and son are now more likely to reindeer.
“The reindeer herders were the first to notice that something was wrong: reindeer felt uncomfortable. They suffer from dehydration and do not want to eat. Fawns are getting weaker. "
However, this was not a surprise for climate researchers.
"Temperatures in May and the average of the past six months are the highest in our records for Western Siberia," said Zachary Labe, an atmospheric science researcher at Colorado State University.
Warming temperatures have contributed to the second lowest registered Arctic sea ice and forest fires across Siberia.
Children play in Lake Krugloe outside of Verkhoyansk - Olga Burtseva
"Decades of climate model projections have shown that the Arctic is likely to warm up more than twice as fast as the rest of the world," said Labe due to feedback in the climate system that, for example, causes the warming temperatures to melt snow cover and the ground cannot absorb the sun's rays reflect more. "We are now seeing the effects of these extremes in real time."
If you speak to the locals in Verkhoyansk, you are unlikely to hear about climate change or get a sense of a major crisis.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has yet to speak about the heat wave, and climate change is barely reaching the Kremlin's agenda.
Several districts of Yakutia have declared a state of emergency, but the region's firefighters have only the resources to extinguish a fraction of the forest fires and simply leave flames in remote, hard-to-reach areas to burn them out.
Exceptionally persistent "warmth" over parts of Siberia during the boreal spring - over 7 ° C above the climate base from 1951-1980!
[Data from @NASAGISS GISTEMPv4]
5:06 p.m. - June 23, 2020
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However, warming in Siberia has an impact on all of us, says Dr. Christina Skull, the lead coordinator of the Permafrost Carbon Network. "What happens in the Arctic doesn't stay in the Arctic," she said.
Large parts of the Arctic consist of permafrost soil that has been frozen for at least two years but up to tens of thousands.
This permafrost contains huge reserves of stored carbon from the organic matter it contains. twice as much as currently in the atmosphere. When the permafrost melts, this carbon is released and contributes to the global greenhouse effect.
Rising arctic temperatures have already caused permafrost to thaw in several places, but scientists warn that there could be a “turning point” in temperatures at which rapid melting would occur.
The thawing of Permafest has already led to the discovery of long dead animals like this woolly mammoth - Sovfoto / UIG via Getty Images
"This thawed permafrost will never freeze again in our lives," said Dr. Skull. After a certain point, "the process is unstoppable and irreversible."
A Russian mining company blamed the sudden permafrost meltdown for a historic oil spill in early June that left more than 20,000 tons of diesel fuel in two rivers near the Arctic city of Norilsk.
Environmental groups said the spillage should have been foreseen, but the event highlighted the vulnerability of the Arctic infrastructure.
Forest fires also contribute to carbon in the atmosphere and have contributed more carbon in the past 18 months than in the past 16 years.
We do not yet know how large the carbon trapped in the permafrost is and how this could ultimately affect the atmosphere. "There are gaps in knowledge," said Dr. Skull.
Scientists say the only way to stop the potential Arctic catastrophe is to slow down climate change.
"I'm still optimistic that we can do it, but we just don't have that much time left," said Dr. Skull.
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