Today's Paper Latest Coronavirus ­čö┤Children in Peril Quarantine Families Core values App Listen Story ideas iPad Weather Newsletters Obits Puzzles Archive
ADVERTISEMENT
story.lead_photo.caption A beach along the Yana River outside Verkhoyansk, Russia, sits empty Tuesday as a heat wave continues. Arctic regions in Russia are among the fastest-warming areas in the world. (AP/Olga Burtseva)

MOSCOW -- The Arctic is feverish and on fire -- at least parts of it are. And that's got scientists worried about what it means for the rest of the world.

The thermometer hit a likely record of 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit in the Russian Arctic town of Verkhoyansk on Saturday, a temperature that would be a fever for a person -- but this is Siberia, known for being frozen. The World Meteorological Organization said Tuesday that it's looking to verify the temperature reading, which would be unprecedented for the region north of the Arctic Circle.

"The Arctic is figuratively and literally on fire -- it's warming much faster than we thought it would in response to rising levels of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, and this warming is leading to a rapid meltdown and increase in wildfires," University of Michigan environmental school dean Jonathan Overpeck, a climate scientist, said in an email.

"The record warming in Siberia is a warning sign of major proportions," Overpeck wrote.

Much of Siberia had high temperatures this year that were beyond unseasonably warm. From January through May, the average temperature in north-central Siberia has been about 14 degrees Fahrenheit above average, according to the climate science non-profit Berkeley Earth.

"That's much, much warmer than it's ever been over that region in that period of time," Berkeley Earth climate scientist Zeke Hausfather said.

For scientists, "alarm bells should be ringing," Overpeck wrote.

Such prolonged Siberian warmth hasn't been seen for thousands of years "and it is another sign that the Arctic amplifies global warming even more than we thought," Overpeck said.

Russia's Arctic regions are among the fastest warming areas in the world.

The temperature on Earth over the past few decades has been growing, on average, by nearly one-third of a degree Fahrenheit every 10 years. But in Russia it increases by 0.85 degrees Fahrenheit -- and in the Russian Arctic, by 1.24 degrees Fahrenheit every decade, said Andrei Kiselyov, the lead scientist at the Moscow-based Voeikov Main Geophysical Observatory.

"In that respect, we're ahead of the whole planet," Kiselyov said.

The increasing temperatures in Siberia have been linked to prolonged wildfires that grow more severe every year and the thawing of the permafrost -- a huge problem because buildings and pipelines are built on them. Thawing permafrost also releases more heat-trapping gas and dries out the soil, which increases wildfires, said Vladimir Romanovsky, who studies permafrost at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

"In this case it's even more serious, because the previous winter was unusually warm," Romanovsky said. The permafrost thaws, ice melts, the soil subsides and then it can trigger a feedback loop that worsens permafrost thawing and "cold winters can't stop it," Romanovsky said.

Last August, more than 4 million hectares of forests in Siberia were on fire, according to Greenpeace. This year the fires have already started raging much earlier than the usual start in July, said Vladimir Chuprov, director of the project department at Greenpeace Russia.

Persistently warm weather, especially if coupled with wildfires, causes permafrost to thaw faster, which in turn exacerbates global warming by releasing large amounts of methane, a potent greenhouse gas that's 28 times stronger than carbon dioxide, said Katey Walter Anthony, a University of Alaska Fairbanks expert on methane release from frozen Arctic soil.

"Methane escaping from permafrost thaw sites enters the atmosphere and circulates around the globe," she said. "Methane that originates in the Arctic does not stay in the Arctic. It has global ramifications."

And what happens in the Arctic can even warp the weather in the United States and Europe.

According to meteorologists at the Russian weather agency Rosgidromet, a combination of factors -- such as a high pressure system with a clear sky and the sun being very high, extremely long daylight hours and short warm nights -- have contributed to the Siberian temperature spike.

"The ground surface heats up intensively. .... The nights are very warm, the air doesn't have time to cool and continues to heat up for several days," said Marina Makarova, chief meteorologist at Rosgidromet.

Information for this article was contributed by Jim Heintz, Frank Jordans, Jamey Keaten and Roman Kutukov of The Associated Press.

In this Thursday, June 18, 2020, handout photo provided by the Russian Emergency Situations Ministry, workers prepare an area for reservoirs for soil contaminated with fuel at an oil spill outside Norilsk, 2,900 kilometers (1,800 miles) northeast of Moscow, Russia. Russian President Vladimir Putin has ordered his government to fully repair environmental damage from a massive fuel leak in the Arctic. A power plant in the Siberian city of Norilsk leaked 20,000 tons of diesel fuel into the ecologically fragile region when a storage tank collapsed on May 29. (Russian Emergency Situations Ministry via AP)
In this Thursday, June 18, 2020, handout photo provided by the Russian Emergency Situations Ministry, workers prepare an area for reservoirs for soil contaminated with fuel at an oil spill outside Norilsk, 2,900 kilometers (1,800 miles) northeast of Moscow, Russia. Russian President Vladimir Putin has ordered his government to fully repair environmental damage from a massive fuel leak in the Arctic. A power plant in the Siberian city of Norilsk leaked 20,000 tons of diesel fuel into the ecologically fragile region when a storage tank collapsed on May 29. (Russian Emergency Situations Ministry via AP)
This photo taken on Friday, June 19, 2020 and provided by ECMWF Copernicus Climate Change Service shows the land surface temperature in the Siberia region of Russia. A record-breaking temperature of 38 degrees Celsius (100.4 degrees Fahrenheit) was registered in the Arctic town of Verkhoyansk on Saturday, June 20 in a prolonged heatwave that has alarmed scientists around the world. (ECMWF Copernicus Climate Change Service via AP)
This photo taken on Friday, June 19, 2020 and provided by ECMWF Copernicus Climate Change Service shows the land surface temperature in the Siberia region of Russia. A record-breaking temperature of 38 degrees Celsius (100.4 degrees Fahrenheit) was registered in the Arctic town of Verkhoyansk on Saturday, June 20 in a prolonged heatwave that has alarmed scientists around the world. (ECMWF Copernicus Climate Change Service via AP)
In this handout photo taken Sunday, June 21, 2020 and provided by Olga Burtseva, children play in the Krugloe lake outside Verkhoyansk, the Sakha Republic, about 4660 kilometers (2900 miles) northeast of Moscow, Russia. A record-breaking temperature of 38 degrees Celsius (100.4 degrees Fahrenheit) was registered in the Arctic town of Verkhoyansk on Saturday, June 20 in a prolonged heatwave that has alarmed scientists around the world. (Olga Burtseva via AP)
In this handout photo taken Sunday, June 21, 2020 and provided by Olga Burtseva, children play in the Krugloe lake outside Verkhoyansk, the Sakha Republic, about 4660 kilometers (2900 miles) northeast of Moscow, Russia. A record-breaking temperature of 38 degrees Celsius (100.4 degrees Fahrenheit) was registered in the Arctic town of Verkhoyansk on Saturday, June 20 in a prolonged heatwave that has alarmed scientists around the world. (Olga Burtseva via AP)
This handout photo provided by Vasiliy Ryabinin shows oil spill outside Norilsk, 2,900 kilometers (1,800 miles) northeast of Moscow, Russia, Friday, May 29, 2020. Russian authorities have charged Vyacheslav Starostin, the director of an Arctic power plant that leaked 20,000 tons of diesel fuel into the ecologically fragile region on May 29, 2020, with violating environmental regulations.  An investigation is ongoing Monday JUne 8, 2020, into the alleged crime, that could bring five years in prison if Starostin is found guilty. (Vasiliy Ryabinin via AP)
This handout photo provided by Vasiliy Ryabinin shows oil spill outside Norilsk, 2,900 kilometers (1,800 miles) northeast of Moscow, Russia, Friday, May 29, 2020. Russian authorities have charged Vyacheslav Starostin, the director of an Arctic power plant that leaked 20,000 tons of diesel fuel into the ecologically fragile region on May 29, 2020, with violating environmental regulations. An investigation is ongoing Monday JUne 8, 2020, into the alleged crime, that could bring five years in prison if Starostin is found guilty. (Vasiliy Ryabinin via AP)
In this handout photo taken Sunday, June 21, 2020 and provided by Olga Burtseva, an outside thermometer shows 30 Celsius (86 F) around 11 p.m in Verkhoyansk, the Sakha Republic, about 4660 kilometers (2900 miles) northeast of Moscow, Russia. A record-breaking temperature of 38 degrees Celsius (100.4 degrees Fahrenheit) was registered in the Arctic town of Verkhoyansk on Saturday, June 20 in a prolonged heatwave that has alarmed scientists around the world. (Olga Burtseva via AP)
In this handout photo taken Sunday, June 21, 2020 and provided by Olga Burtseva, an outside thermometer shows 30 Celsius (86 F) around 11 p.m in Verkhoyansk, the Sakha Republic, about 4660 kilometers (2900 miles) northeast of Moscow, Russia. A record-breaking temperature of 38 degrees Celsius (100.4 degrees Fahrenheit) was registered in the Arctic town of Verkhoyansk on Saturday, June 20 in a prolonged heatwave that has alarmed scientists around the world. (Olga Burtseva via AP)
FILE - In this handout file photo dated Tuesday, June 2, 2020, provided by the Russian Marine Rescue Service, rescuers work to prevent the spread from an oil spill outside Norilsk, 2,900 kilometers (1,800 miles) northeast of Moscow, Russia.  Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday June 19, 2020, has ordered his government to fully repair environmental damage from a massive fuel leak in the Arctic. A power plant in the Siberian city of Norilsk leaked 20,000 tons of diesel fuel into the ecologically fragile region when a storage tank collapsed on May 29. (Russian Marine Rescue Service via AP, File)
FILE - In this handout file photo dated Tuesday, June 2, 2020, provided by the Russian Marine Rescue Service, rescuers work to prevent the spread from an oil spill outside Norilsk, 2,900 kilometers (1,800 miles) northeast of Moscow, Russia. Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday June 19, 2020, has ordered his government to fully repair environmental damage from a massive fuel leak in the Arctic. A power plant in the Siberian city of Norilsk leaked 20,000 tons of diesel fuel into the ecologically fragile region when a storage tank collapsed on May 29. (Russian Marine Rescue Service via AP, File)
ADVERTISEMENT

Sponsor Content

COMMENTS - It looks like you're using Internet Explorer, which isn't compatible with the Democrat-Gazette commenting system. You can join the discussion by using another browser, like Firefox or Google Chrome.
It looks like you're using Microsoft Edge. The Democrat-Gazette commenting system is more compatible with Firefox and Google Chrome.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT