This summer's 100-degree temperature in far-north Siberia made headlines. The entire Arctic area is sizzling under the effects of a long-term heat wave. That has scary implications for everyone, including those of us who live outside the Arctic Circle.
Siberia, a huge swath of Russian territory across northern Europe and Asia, is "well-known primarily for its long, harsh winters," according to Wikipedia. It's now in the news for record-breaking high temperatures, disappearing sea ice, extreme forest fires, and melting permafrost.
The scientific community has been predicting those consequences of global warming for some time. They have dire implications for sustainability worldwide.
'We told you so'
"The Arctic is warming at roughly twice the rate of the globe as a whole," said Mark Serreze, director of the National Snow and Ice Data Center at the University of Colorado Boulder. "When extreme heat waves like this 1 strike, it stands out to everyone. Scientists are generally reluctant to say 'We told you so,' but the record shows that we did."
Serreze is a climate scientist who has been visiting the far North since 1982. He explored the implications of Arctic climate change in an article for The Conversation titled "100 degrees in Siberia? 5 ways the extreme Arctic heat wave follows a disturbing pattern."
The Washington Post reported that a northeastern Siberia town called Verkhoyansk recorded the highest temperature ever documented inside the Arctic Circle on June 20, the first day of summer: 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit.
"The town of about 1,300 is located farther north than Fairbanks, Alaska, and is known for having an unusually wide temperature range," the Post said. "During the winter, Verkhoyansk is 1 of the coldest spots in the world, with temperatures frequently dipping well below minus-50 degrees."
Taking the 'perma' out of permafrost
Serreze mentions several ways in which a warming Arctic can cause problems for the rest of the planet. For 1 thing, it thaws the permafrost—the Arctic terrain that normally remains frozen year-round.
People have built houses, roads, bridges, and other infrastructure on top of permafrost. When solid permafrost turns into mud, bad things happen—such as a storage tank collapse in May near Norilsk, Russia, that spilled thousands of tons of oil into a river.
"Thawing permafrost also creates a less obvious but even more damaging problem," Serreze said. "When the ground thaws, microbes in the soil begin turning its organic matter into carbon dioxide and methane. Both are greenhouse gases that further warm the planet."
He said it's too early to determine the full causes and consequences of what seems to be shaping up as a long, hot Arctic summer: "Caution must always be exercised about reading too much into a single event—heat waves happen. But this is part of a disturbing pattern."
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