Scientists warned us that the planet’s warming must not exceed 1.5 degrees Celsius to avoid a climate catastrophe. Siberia’s temperatures, however, have already spiked far beyond that. A 2019 analysis by The Washington Post revealed that Yakutia, a region near the town of Zyryanka in Siberia, has warmed by more than 3 degrees Celsius—nearly three times the global average.
Siberia Temperature Hits Record High
The continuous increase of temperature in Siberia has melted its permafrost, disrupting the lives and livelihoods of over 5.4 million people. Animals and plants frozen for thousands of years are also starting to decompose. The steady flow of carbon dioxide and other gases into the atmosphere as the permafrost thaws has been accelerating climate change. “The permafrost is thawing so fast. We scientists can’t keep up anymore,” Anna Liljedahl, an associate professor at the University of Alaska in Fairbank, said.
Recent data from the Copernicus Climate Change Service (C3S) revealed that Earth’s average surface temperature for the 12 months to May 2020 is close to 1.3 Celsius above preindustrial levels. It was reported that May 2020 was 0.63 Celsius warmer than the average of May from 1981 to 2010. As the world experienced its warmest May on record, scientists have grown more concerned about Siberia.
According to Phys.org, an internet news portal that provides the latest news on science, the C3S reported that temperatures reached 10 degrees Celsius above last month in Siberia, home to much of Earth’s permafrost. "The really large anomalies started during January, and since then this signal has been quite persistent," C3S senior scientist Freja Vamborg said.
Last June 20, Verkhoyansk, a Siberian settlement known for its exceptionally low temperatures during winter, with a record minimum of -67.8 Celsius, reached its highest ever temperature of 38 Celsius.
Jonathan Overpeck, a climate scientist from the University of Michigan, said that the high temperatures in Siberia this year are extremely unusual. The average temperature in north-central Siberia from January to May, for instance, has been about 8 degrees Celsius above average. “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.
Overpeck added that the prolonged warmth in Siberia is a sign that the Arctic amplifies global warming even more than we thought. “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,” he said.
Siberian Heatwave Alarms Scientists
A heatwave roasting northern Siberia for the past weeks is still quite shocking for many scientists, despite the fact that the climate has been warming rapidly in the Arctic for years. This isn’t the first time, however, because Siberia is known for its extreme temperatures. It has experienced a climate with a low -68 degrees Celsius (minus 90 Fahrenheit) to now 38 degrees Celsius (100.4 Fahrenheit).
A 2019 study found out that permafrost test sites worldwide had warmed by nearly half a degree Fahrenheit on average over the decade from 2007 to 2016. The researchers said that the greatest increase was in Siberia, where some areas had warmed by 1.6 degrees. They warned that if the current heatwave in Siberia will continue, it will exacerbate permafrost warming and thawing.
Meteorologists at the Russian weather agency Rosgidromet said that there are several factors that 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,” Marina Makarova, chief meteorologist at Rosgidromet, said.
Previous studies linked the increasing temperatures in Siberia to prolonged wildfires that grow more severe every year and the thawing of the permafrost. Vladimir Romanovsky, who studies permafrost at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, said that thawing permafrost releases more heat-trapping gas and dries out the soil. “In this case, it’s even more serious because the previous winter was unusually warm,” Romanovsky said.
Vladimir Chuprov, director of the project department at Greenpeace Russia, reported that the fires in Siberia’s forests this year are raging much earlier than the usual start in July. Experts fear that this could further worsen global warming due to greenhouse gas emissions because these wildfires release large amounts of methane. Methane is a potent greenhouse gas that’s 28 times stronger than carbon dioxide.
“Methane escaping from permafrost thaw sites enters the atmosphere and circulates around the globe. Methane that originates in the Arctic does not stay in the Arctic. It has global ramifications,” Katey Walter Anthony, a University of Alaska Fairbanks expert on methane release from frozen Arctic soil, said.
According to The New York Times, an American newspaper based in New York City with worldwide influence and readership, a group of scientists convened by the UN last year revealed that the thawing permafrost could unleash as much as 240 billion tons of carbon by 2100. Thus, potentially accelerating climate change. This process can damage Russian buildings and infrastructure, which could total more than $100 billion by 2050.
Scientists also blamed the melting permafrost to a catastrophic oil spill from a collapsed storage tank last month near the Arctic city of Norilsk. According to The Guardian, an independent news organization that investigates, interrogates, and exposes the actions of those in power, the oil spill has contaminated a river with 20,000 tons of diesel.
Due to the melting permafrost, the older buildings in a village called Russkoye Ustye have all collapsed into the river over the last three decades. Researchers also reported other changes. This includes noticing bird species that had never before flown that far north for the past five years.
Scientists added that the massive increase in temperatures in Siberia is indicative of a much bigger global warming trend. “The key point is that the climate is changing and global temperatures are warming. We will be breaking more and more records as we go,” Freja Vamborg, senior scientist at the C3S, said.