Temperatures in Siberian town hit 38 deg C. If confirmed, it will be a record for the Arctic

A persistent heatwave this year in the Arctic Circle has worried meteorologists.
A persistent heatwave this year in the Arctic Circle has worried meteorologists.ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

SINGAPORE - Temperatures for Verkhoyansk, a remote Siberian town inside the Arctic Circle, hit 38 deg C on Saturday (June 20), about 18 deg C above the average maximum daily temperature in June.

If confirmed, it would be the hottest temperature on record in the Arctic, the BBC and other media reported.

It fits a pattern. Scientists say the Arctic is warming at more than twice the rate of the rest of the globe and the region has been regularly breaking temperature records.

The hot weather follows weeks of abnormally high temperatures in far northern Russia, helping fuel huge wildfires in Siberia that are likely to burn for months.

It also comes as 2020 is shaping up to be one of the hottest years on record. Last month was tied with May 2016 as the hottest May on record, while the months of January to April were either the hottest or second hottest on record.

Nineteen of the 20 warmest years all have occurred since 2001, with the exception of 1998. The year 2016 ranks as the warmest on record, according to Nasa.

Verkhoyansk, home to about 1,300 people, sits just inside the Arctic Circle. It has an extreme climate with temperatures plunging in January to an average maximum of minus 42 deg C and then surging in June to 20 deg C, according to the BBC.

A persistent heatwave this year in the Arctic Circle has worried meteorologists. In March, April and May, the European Commission's Copernicus Climate Change Service reported that the average temperature was around 10 deg C above normal.

Dr Freja Vamborg, senior scientist at the Copernicus Climate Change Service, said in a commentary last week (June 17): "It is undoubtedly an alarming sign, but not only May was unusually warm in this region. The whole of winter and spring had repeated periods of higher-than-average surface air temperatures."

She noted that while the planet as a whole is warming, it isn't happening evenly: "Western Siberia stands out as a region that shows more of a warming trend with higher variations in temperature.

"This means that, to some extent, large temperature anomalies are not unexpected. However, what is unusual in this case is how long the warmer-than-average anomalies have persisted for."

 
 

Climate scientists say the northern and parts of the southern polar regions are warming much more rapidly because of global warming.

Growing amounts of greenhouse gases, chiefly carbon dioxide (CO2) from burning fossil fuels, forest fires and agriculture, are heating up the planet.

The extreme temperatures in Siberia and elsewhere in the Arctic are particularly worrying scientists for a number of reasons.

The Arctic has a huge layer of permanently frozen soil under the surface that is melting. That thick layer of ice contains huge amounts of methane, an even more powerful greenhouse gas than CO2, and increasing amounts of methane in the atmosphere could accelerate climate change.

Ice on land and on sea also helps keep the planet cool by reflecting the sun's energy. As more of it melts, more of the sun's energy is absorbed by the oceans and land.

And the Arctic also has huge areas of forest, which are one of the largest stores of carbon on the planet. Higher temperatures in Arctic, particularly Siberia, are creating conditions for larger and more intense fires that are releasing large amounts of CO2.

In recent days, the number and intensity of wildfires in north-east Siberia and Arctic Circle have continued to increase, according to an analysis by the Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service.

 
 

The daily total intensity is at similar levels to that observed in 2019, Dr Mark Parrington, a senior scientist at the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts, said on Twitter.

Last year, wildfires in Siberia burned for months, sweeping through millions of hectares. Those fires were followed by huge forest fires in South America and record bush fires in eastern Australia.