- On June 17, 2020, a Siberian town registered a temperature of 100 degrees Fahrenheit, the highest ever recorded above the Arctic Circle. High temps across the region are driving impacts of great concern to scientists, firefighters, and those who maintain vulnerable Arctic infrastructure, including pipelines, roads, and buildings.
- The Siberian heat flowed over the adjacent Arctic Ocean where it triggered record early sea ice melt in the Laptev Sea, and record low Arctic sea ice extent for this time of year. While 2020 is well positioned to set a new low extent record over 2012, variations in summer weather could change that.
- The heat has also triggered wildfires in Siberia, releasing 59 million metric tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere in June and drying out the region’s tundra. Some blazes are known as “zombie fires” possibly having smoldered underground all winter between 2019 and 2020.
- Also at risk from the rapid rise in warmth is civil and military infrastructure, built atop thawing permafrost. As Siberia heated up this year, a fuel tank at a Russian power plant collapsed, leaking 21,000 tons of diesel into the Ambarnaya and Dadylkan rivers, a major Arctic disaster. Worse could come as the world continues warming.
The record-setting heat wave that swept through Arctic Siberia in June has yielded a wide-range of deleterious effects in the expansive polar and sub-polar region, triggering raging wildfires, thawing permafrost, and now, spurring the rapid melt-out of Arctic sea ice.
Last month, Siberian temperatures spiked, reaching a record average more than 5 degrees Celsius (9 degrees Fahrenheit) hotter than normal, according to recently released data from the European Union. The remote town of Verkhoyansk in northeast Siberia recorded a reading of more than 38 degrees Celsius (100 degrees Fahrenheit) on June 17, the highest temperature ever recorded north of the Arctic Circle.
Under this metaphorical blow torch, ice extent in the seas that border Siberia has plummeted in recent days, pushing the Arctic region as a whole into the record books. Between July 2 and July 7, sea ice extent across the Arctic Ocean went from being at its fifth lowest extent for this time of year since satellite record-keeping began in 1979, melting into first place, slightly below even the calamitous year of 2012 which eventually saw sea ice hit a record low at the end of the summer melt season in September.
As of July 9, sea ice extent in the global Arctic sits at just 8.310 million square kilometers (3.2 million square miles). If that melting momentum carries forward (and nobody knows if it will), 2020 could nab the title of the lowest ice extent year come September — with unknown long-term ramifications for the Arctic and the global climate.
An exceedingly abnormal spring and early summer in Siberia is thought to be largely responsible for 2020’s sudden surge downward. “The ice is opening up quite quickly and dramatically. It’s now at a record low in the Laptev Sea off northern Siberia,” says Walt Meier, a senior research scientist at the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC).