Warm temperatures spark Arctic wildfires and sea ice melt

Polar bears could be extinct by the end of the century

Arctic wildfires - ice melt

Photo: Håkon Mosvold Larsen / NTB scanpix
Svalbard has recorded the hottest temperatures iin 40 years. The Arctic is heating more than twice as fast as the global average.

Marit Fosse
Geneva

The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) has warned that “exceptional and prolonged” temperatures in Siberia have left parts of the Arctic warmer than sub-tropical Florida and fueled “devastating” wildfires for a second consecutive year.

The WMO also warned of rapidly decreasing sea ice along the Russian polar coast and said the Northern Sea route appears to be nearly open when the agency addressed a twice-weekly briefing for journalists. Svalbard, the Norwegian archipelago in the Arctic, has recorded temperatures above 68 degrees Fahrenheit, the hottest ever recorded in more than 40 years and almost equal to the all-time record, according to the Norwegian Meteorological Institute.

According to the United Nations agency, temperatures in Siberia have been more than 9 F above average from January to June, and in the month of June up to 18 F above average.

“Some parts of Siberia this week have again topped 86 F—so it’s been warmer in Siberia than … many parts of Florida”, said WMO spokesperson Clare Nullis.

“We’ve had exceptional and prolonged heat for months now and this has fueled devastating Arctic fires; and at the same time we’re seeing rapidly decreasing sea coverage along the Arctic coast,” she said.

Nullis noted that the estimated total carbon emissions since January are the highest in 18 years, when the Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service of wildfires began.

The development follows an astonishing reading of 100.4 F in the Russian town of Verkhoyansk on June 20.

“The Arctic is heating more than twice as fast as the global average, impacting local populations and ecosystems and with global repercussions,” Nullis said,

She observed that such extreme heat would have been almost impossible without the influence of human-induced climate change, referring to new climate research published in the journal Nature Climate Change which also points to irreversible threats to the Arctic ecosystem.

“Polar bears—which as we all know is a symbol of climate change—could be nearly extinct by the end of the century,” if sea ice continues to shrink at current rates, said Nullis.

The ice retreat along the Arctic Russian coast in the northern spring has accelerated since late June, leading to very low sea ice extent in the Laptev and Barents Seas, WMO also warned.

Changes to weather at the poles will likely affect other more distant and populated places too, Nullis cautioned, thanks to a phenomenon known as “teleconnections.”

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