Climate Change

Siberia is experiencing heatwaves and forest fires – this is why it matters

Siberia

Unprecedented weather in the Arctic has scientists alarmed. Image: Unsplash/Markus Siemens

Sean Fleming
Senior Writer, Formative Content
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Climate Change

  • A Siberian town recently reported an exceptional temperature of 38ºC.
  • Forest fires are raging 50 kilometres from the Arctic Ocean.
  • Extreme weather has also been reported in the Middle East.

As average temperatures rise in many parts of the world, encroaching on the 1.5ºC Paris Agreement target, extreme weather events are becoming increasingly common. And while it’s too soon to say whether 2020 will be the warmest year yet, it looks likely to be among them.

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Siberian heatwave

The town of Verkhoyansk should be one of the coldest places on Earth. It lies just within the Arctic Circle and, during winter, it’s not unusual for temperatures to fall below -50°C.

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Western Siberian surface air temperature anomalies for May.
Western Siberian surface air temperatures in May. Image: Euronews/C3S/ECMWF

There has been a clear warming trend in parts of Siberia for many years. This year, a bank of warm air has been turning up the heat across the region. And in June, temperatures in Verkhoyansk are reported to have hit a record 38ºC.

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Climate scientist Freja Vamborg, from the Copernicus Climate Change Service, described the situation as “alarming” to EuroNews. “What is unusual in this case is (how long) the warmer than average anomalies have persisted,” she said.

Fire and ice

For most of the year, large parts of the Arctic Ocean are covered in sea ice. Yet, just 50 kilometres from its shores, forest fires are raging. The European Union’s Copernicus satellites have photographed a wildfire close to the Siberian town of Taymylyr. It is thought to be the northernmost wildfire ever recorded.

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The discovery of the Taymylyr fire comes as Russia’s forest fire management agency, Avialesookhrana, announced a five-fold increase of such incidences in the area in just one week. Around 2.85 million acres of Siberia are ablaze but inaccessible to fire-fighters.

An unexpected problem

As the Arctic warms, snow and ice give way to soil and rock. For some, however, this has created an opportunity.

Beavers have been quick to make the most of the situation. They have moved into some of these warmer areas in the far north to make new homes for themselves. But in doing so, CNN reports, the beavers may be contributing to the warming process.

The dams they make create new areas of water. A shallow pool absorbs more heat than a frozen stretch of tundra. The result is that the beavers’ new homes are contributing to the thawing of the methane-releasing permafrost.

Extremes in the Middle East

It’s not just high temperatures in the far north that are raising concerns. Areas in the Middle East, including the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and parts of Israel have been experiencing unusually high levels of rainfall this year.

Flooding, caused by heavy rain, left one person dead in Jerusalem and two in the Gaza Strip. Storms, characterized by winds of around 100 kilometres per hour, whipped up huge dust clouds. There have also been exceptionally low temperatures, close to freezing point, and heavy snowfalls.

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