Story at a glance
- A town in northeastern Russia soared to more than 100 degrees Fahrenheit on Saturday, June 20.
- If accurate, it would be the hottest temperature on record anywhere north of the Arctic Circle.
- Siberia has seen some of the planet's largest temperature anomalies so far in 2020.
- Recent temperature aberrations appear to be occurring decades ahead of climate change projections.
A small town in northeast Siberia, a vast Arctic region of Russia, reached the shocking temperature of 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit this past Saturday. If verified, the temperature would mark the hottest ever recorded temperature north of the Arctic Circle.
The news comes amidst a recent jump in temperatures in the region, and signals to a larger, worsening trend of human-caused climate change around the world. These effects are exacerbated in ice and snow-filled areas such as the Arctic Circle, where temperatures are rising fastest due to ocean currents that carry heat towards the poles, as well as ice melt.
Recently, Russian towns in the Arctic Circle have recorded unusually high temperatures, with areas like Khatanga, which usually has daytime temperatures of around 30 degrees Fahrenheit at this time of year, hitting 77 degrees on May 22 — smashing a former record of 53.6 degrees.
“This winter was the hottest in Siberia since records began 130 years ago,” says Marina Makarova, the chief meteorologist at Russia’s Rosgidromet weather service. “Average temperatures were up to 6 degrees Celsius higher than the seasonal norms.”
In May, surface temperatures in parts of Siberia were even higher — up to 10 degrees Celsius above average, according to the EU’s Copernicus Climate Change Service (C3S).
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Temperature anomalies in May 2020, expressed as standard deviations from the average 1981-2010 in the @CopernicusECMWF #ERA5 reanalysis. Note the 5σ deviation in northwestern Siberia, would be a 1 in 100000 year event for a normal distribution of anomalies without climate change. pic.twitter.com/29u87uJ88o— Martin Stendel (@MartinStendel) June 9, 2020
One of the coldest towns on Earth, Verkhoyansk, had an average June high temperature of 68, in stark contrast to this past November when temperatures dropped nearly 60 degrees below zero. Arctic sea ice coverage along the coast of Siberia is also at a 41-year record low for this time of year.
Though he denies human activity is the cause, even Vladimir Putin, Russia’s president, commented on the unusual heat during his annual press conference last December, saying: “Some of our cities were built north of the Arctic Circle, on the permafrost. If it begins to thaw, you can imagine what consequences it would have. It’s very serious.”
One of those consequences has already settled in, after a diesel fuel tank lost pressure on May 29 and burst, spilling 21,000 tons of diesel into rivers and subsoil near the city of Norilsk. The tank had formerly settled into permafrost that stood for years, and eventually gave away due to the extremely high spring temperatures.
Environmental groups have compared the incident to the Exxon Valdez tanker spill in Alaska in 1989, calling attention to the risks of industrial development in the quickly thawing Arctic. Russia is also warming 2.5 times quicker than the rest of the planet on average.
President Putin said the scale of the clean-up operation after a huge fuel spill in the Arctic was unprecedented for Russia, and Greenpeace estimated the environmental damage to waters in the region at $1.4 billion. It will take at least 10 years for biodiversity in the waters to fully return where the spill happened.