Saturday, July 27, 2019

Arctic Heatwaves are a Final Warning

When the coldest place on Earth is regularly breaking heat records it may be time to concede that the end may indeed be nigh. The world is heating up but nowhere is this warming trend more pronounced than in the Arctic. The Arctic is getting hotter three times as fast as the rest of the world. This year (2019) was the second or third warmest Arctic spring on record. At the end of March temperatures in parts of the Arctic were 22° C above seasonal norms smashing the all time temperature record for the month. In May it hit  29° C (84° F) in Arkhangelsk, Russia which is situated near the Arctic Ocean. In Koynas, an area east of Arkhangelsk, temperature exceeded 30.6° C (87° F).

In July temperatures reached a record 69.8° F in Alert, which is situated in the Qikiqtaaluk Region, in Nunavut, Canada. Located less than less 600 miles from the North Pole, this is the northernmost permanently inhabited place in the world. Heatwaves and heat records are becoming the new Arctic norm. In recent years there have been a slew of days when the mercury has climbed above 15° C (60° F). This is way above the seasonal average of 3° C (38° F).

Armel Castellan, a meteorologist at the Canadian environment ministry told AFP that these temperatures are "completely staggering" adding that this is only one data point among many.. "It’s quite phenomenal as a statistic, it’s just one example among hundreds and hundreds of other records established by global warming," Castellan said.

There is no end in sight as Canadian government models predict that the warm weather will continue in the Arctic throughout the rest of the summer.

The Arctic is critical for a number of reasons including its impact on the world's climate. A 2018 study indicated that Arctic warming interferes with the jet stream and increases the likelihood of heatwaves. The heatwaves in the Arctic have been attributed to irregular fluctuations in the jet stream. The wandering jet stream has also been implicated in this year's heatwaves in Canada, the U.S., Europe and Asia.

It is no coincidence that these heatwaves are taking place against the backdrop of rising greenhouse gas emissions. At 415 parts per million this is the highest level of atmospheric carbon in at least 800,000 years.

While this is bad enough there are even more cataclysmic implications of Arctic warming. There are at least 1.5 trillion tons of carbon frozen in the permafrost of the far north, if warming continues and the ice keeps melting, these gases could be released into the atmosphere canceling out even our most ambitious mitigation efforts. This could push the climate beyond tipping points from which we may not be able to recover.

We are faced with a stark choice, drastically slash greenhouse gas emissions or continue with business as usual and destroy civilization as we know it.

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