Arctic temperatures hit 30C, raising risk of wildfires

10 June 2020

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ARCTIC – The Arctic is warming twice as fast as the rest of the globe as a result of climate change

Temperatures within the Arctic Circle hit 30C this week, sparking fears the region could be facing another devastating year of wildfires.

Nizhnyaya Pesha, on the North West fringes of Russia, recorded a temperature of 30C on Tuesday afternoon, the BBC weather service confirmed. Temperatures in Nizhnyaya Pesha do not usually climb above 30C until July or August, if at all.

Temperatures within the Arctic Circle have hit an astonishing 30C this afternoon.

— BBC Weather (@bbcweather) June 9, 2020

Such an extreme spike in June temperature is the latest sign of the speed at which the Arctic environment is changing because of global warming, said Dr Gareth Marshall, senior climatologist at the British Antarctic Survey.

Employees of Russia's state-owned oil pipeline monopoly Transneft take part in a clean-up operation following a massive fuel spill in the Ambarnaya River outside Norilsk on June 10, 2020. - Russian investigators on June 10, 2020 detained three staff at a power plant where thousands of tonnes of diesel leaked into the soil and waterways of the Arctic region. The spill of over 21,000 tonnes of fuel, which environmentalists say is the largest ever in the Arctic, took place after a fuel reservoir collapsed at a power plant operated by a subsidiary of metals giant Norilsk Nickel in the city of Norilsk beyond the Arctic Circle. (Photo by Irina YARINSKAYA / AFP) (Photo by IRINA YARINSKAYA/AFP via Getty Images)
A clean-up operation is underway after a massive oil spill at a power plant in the Arctic Circle in Russia. The accident is thought to have been caused by the melting permafrost (Photo: IRINA YARINSKAYA/AFP/Getty)

The highest ever temperature recorded within the Arctic Circle was 34.8C, recorded in Sweden last year, and over the last 12 months temperatures in some parts of Siberia have endured temperatures 10C above average.

Dr Marshall warned such high temperatures will have a number of damaging effects.

Wildfires and emissions

The melting of snow lowers the moisture content of soils, making the ground more vulnerable to wildfires, Dr Marshall said. Last summer the Arctic suffered its worst wildfire season ever, following the hottest June on record.

The warm weather this year is likely to have a similar effect, with reports of “zombie” forest fires still smouldering from last year starting to flare up again. “I would imagine that would be a direct impact of this kind of event, that you would see more forest fires,” Dr Marshall said of this week’s temperature spikes.

Warmer weather also causes carbon sinks in Arctic wetlands, forests and soil to break down and release emissions, further accelerating climate change, he added.

“These carbon sinks can only exist within a very narrow temperature range,” he explained. “So they are especially vulnerable to warming events like what we are seeing at the moment, and they will have a huge impact on future emissions of CO2 into the atmosphere.”

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