A prolonged heat wave in Siberia is "undoubtedly alarming," climate scientists said. The abnormal temperatures have been linked to wildfires, a large oil spill and a plague of tree-eating moths.
On a global scale, the Siberian heat is helping push the world toward its hottest year on record in 2020, despite a temporary decline in carbon emissions due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Temperatures in the polar regions are rising faster because ocean currents carry heat toward the poles and reflective ice and snow are melting.
Russian cities in the Arctic Circle have recorded extraordinary temperatures, with Nizhnyaya Pesha reaching 30 ° C on June 9 and Khatanga, which generally has daytime temperatures of around 0 ° C at this time of year, reaching 25 ° C. May 22. The previous record was 12 ° C.
In May, surface temperatures in parts of Siberia were up to 10 ° C above average, according to the EU's Copernicus Climate Change Service (C3S). Martin Stendel of the Danish Meteorological Institute said the abnormal May temperatures observed in northwestern Siberia would likely occur only once in 100,000 years without human-caused global warming.
Freja Vamborg, Senior Scientist at C3S, said: "This is certainly an alarming sign, but it wasn't just May that was unusually warm in Siberia." All winter and spring had repeated periods of above-average surface air temperatures.
“Although the planet as a whole is warming, this is not happening uniformly. Western Siberia stands out as a region showing more of a warming trend with greater temperature variations. So to some extent, large temperature anomalies are not unexpected. However, what is unusual is how long the warmer-than-average anomalies have persisted. "
Marina Makarova, chief meteorologist at Russia's Rosgidromet meteorological service, said: “This winter was the hottest in Siberia since records began 130 years ago. Average temperatures were up to 6 ° C higher than seasonal norms. "
Robert Rohde, the lead scientist for the Berkeley Earth project, said Russia as a whole had experienced record temperatures in 2020, with a January-May average 5.3 ° C above the 1951-1980 average. "This is a new record of a massive 1.9 ° C," he said.
In December, Russian President Vladimir Putin commented on the unusual heat: “Some of our cities were built north of the Arctic Circle, in the permafrost. If it starts to thaw, you can imagine what the consequences would be. It is very serious ”.
The permafrost thaw was at least partly to blame for a diesel fuel spill in Siberia this month that prompted Putin to declare a state of emergency. The storage tank supports suddenly collapsed, according to its operators; Environmental groups said aging and poorly maintained infrastructure were also to blame.
Forest fires have devastated hundreds of thousands of hectares of Siberian forests. Farmers often light fires in the spring to clear vegetation, and a combination of high temperatures and high winds has caused some fires to burn out of control.
Swarms of the Siberian silk moth, whose larvae eat on coniferous trees, have grown rapidly in increasing temperatures. "In my entire long career, I have never seen moths so big and growing so fast," said Vladimir Soldatov, an expert on moths.
He warned of "tragic consequences" for forests, with the larvae stripping the trees of their needles and making them more susceptible to fires.