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Soaring Arctic Temperatures and its Effect on Water - Siberian Temperatures Reaches 35°C Again



Last year, June 20th, meteorologists scrambled to verify what seemed to be an anomaly in their data. However, after it was verified, it was found out that temperatures in Verkhoyansk, Siberia reached 38°C or 100°F which is the highest recorded temperature in the Arctic Circle. This temperature was recorded amidst a heatwave that lasted longer than usual.


The Russian Federal Service for Hydrometeorological and Environmental Monitoring or Roshydromet was the station that confirmed the record-breaking temperature. This station has been measuring temperatures in this area since 1885. The previous highest temperature was recorded on July 25, 1988, when the air temperature reached 37.3°C.


A little bit of information about Verkhoyansk. It is located in a region of Eastern Siberia which has an extremely harsh dry continental climate. During winters it can get very cold and dry, temperatures could drop as low as −45.4°C, summers are still quite chilly with a temperature of 16.5 °C. To be more precise, Verkhoyansk is located in the northern part of Yakutia or the Sakha Republic.


For extreme temperatures, Roshydromet would have to work with the World Meteorological Organization to confirm the findings. Afterwards, the data would then be forwarded to the Global Weather and Climate Extremes Archives to be verified by a team of investigators. The data collected by these agencies would provide details of global, hemispheric, and continental extremes.


Global warming doesn’t happen evenly, some areas in the world experience a faster increase in temperature than others. The Arctic Circle is one of many regions in the world that experiences this phenomenon. In fact, this region’s temperature is increasing at a rate that is twice the global average. In the past four years prior to the highest recorded temperature, the Arctic has seen high temperatures. The Arctic consistently had unusually hot summers that by September 2019 the mean volume of the Arctic sea-ice decreased by 50%.


In recent years, Siberia experienced exceptional heat. Temperatures within this region went above the average by up to 10°C or 18.5 °F. Moreover, their temperature turned from cold to mild periodically throughout the seasons. These unusually high temperatures resulted in the early break-up of ice in Siberia’s rivers.


Polar amplification is a phenomenon that may explain why the poles are warming up relatively faster than other regions of the Earth. The sea ice used to provide a bright white cap that reflects most of the sunlight back. With them gone, the dark-coloured sea would absorb heat from the sun faster. This would then accelerate the rate at which the sea ice would melt. This would then expose more of the dark-coloured sea which would absorb more heat and so on. This process goes on as a self-reinforcing loop.


Even until now, scientists are still trying to determine which between the high temperatures last year or the extended period of warm days is worse for the climate because no one has done extensive research on this. Scientists are also unsure if last year’s extreme temperatures were caused by humans. However, the heatwave that caused excessive melting in Greenland and Northern Europe last 2019 has human-caused climate change’s fingerprints all over it. Scientists discovered that 60% of the excessive Arctic heat of 2016 was due to human-caused climate change. With this information, it is highly likely that the extreme temperatures that were witnessed in recent years could have been brought about by human-caused climate change.



Siberian Temperatures Reaches 35°C Again

Last June 21, 2021, the European Union’s Copernicus satellite website showed an image of Siberia’s Land Surface Temperatures that reached an average temperature of 35°C or 86°F across the entire region of Siberia. Although the town of Verkhoyansk, which reached 38°C last year, only reached 33.1°C this year, this temperature reading is still worryingly high. At these temperatures, the permafrost found through the Siberian region may melt and release the greenhouse gases that are trapped within them. These greenhouse gases would further exacerbate climate change and make the Earth even warmer. The Copernicus Sentinal-3A and 3B satellites captured Siberia’s land surface temperatures while the area was affected by a heatwave.


Effects of Melting Glaciers

According to research conducted by The University of Zurich, the rate at which the glaciers are melting has accelerated over the course of three decades. In this study, the researchers noted that 355 billion tonnes of ice are lost per year. 30% of the current rate of ocean growth is attributed to this massive amount of melted ice. This loss of ice is referred to as deglaciation and some major consequences of its occurrence include:


Less freshwater

Some regions of the world depend on glaciers for freshwater for drinking and other purposes such as hydroelectric energy generation and irrigation.


Sea level rise

Glaciers are like chunks of ice that tower over the water’s surface in a glass of water. Once they melt, they add to the volume of water that is already in the glass. At some point, the water would spill out of the glass. Glacial melting raised sea levels by 2.7 centimetres since 1961. The amount of water stored in the glaciers, if released through melting, could increase sea levels by about half a metre.


Impact on the climate

Oceanic currents can be altered by the thawing of glaciers. This is not ideal because they have a significant effect on the global climate. Recently, there had been a string of extreme weather events throughout the globe and those could be attributed to changing oceanic currents that are brought about by the melting glaciers.


Disappearance of species

Glaciers aren’t just barren chunks of ice floating about, they are natural habitats to some unique fauna. Without them, the animals that rely on these glaciers could go extinct.


Shrinking Glaciers affects River Runoff

The water that comes from melting glaciers would often end up in rivers. Thus, they have a significant impact on river runoff and freshwater resources. Since this is the case, communities that depend on rivers for freshwater, whether they are near or far from the glaciers, would be heavily affected whenever the rate at which glaciers melt would change.


Glaciers act as long-term storage for freshwater. Areas that have glaciers are reasonably cold. However, changes in global temperatures made these areas hotter which increased the rate at which glaciers melt. This lead to the release of freshwater that was previously stored in ice. This also leads to faster and greater water flows downhill from the glacier. This may appear as a positive thing as more freshwater would be supplied to several communities. However, this is not sustainable. At some point, the amount of freshwater that the glacier could provide would decrease. In most cases, the peak water runoff that fast-melting glaciers could produce can exceed the initial yearly runoff by up to 50 percent. This extra freshwater can be used for hydropower or irrigation. After the turning point, the extra water would gradually decrease and eventually stop if nothing is done about the fast melting glacier. The glacier would stop giving off freshwater when they completely disappear or retreat to high elevations. This loss of freshwater would mean less freshwater for communities downstream.


Changes in the rate at which glaciers melt could change the timing on the days when water is most abundant in rivers. Normally, glaciers that are found in mid to high latitudes would generate greater and faster runoffs during the summer. This would continue until all the winter snow would disappear. Aside from that, the air temperature and solar radiation during the day could make the glaciers melt faster. Essentially, summer days are the times of the year were glaciers would usually produce the greatest amount of freshwater. In tropical latitudes, seasonal air temperature variations are small because there are only two seasons, wet and dry. These two seasons are the primary determining factor of the timing of glacier runoff throughout the year.


The distance of the river from the glacier affects river runoff further downhill. If the river is close to the glaciers, changes in the amount and rate of glacier runoff can have a significant effect on the river. A decrease in glacier runoff would immediately reduce the river’s water levels. Conversely, an increase in glacier runoff could cause flooding. When the river is further away from the glacier, the rate at which the glacier would melt has a small effect on the river.


The glaciers are an important source of water, especially in hot and dry seasons. Due to the fact that they melt faster during hot and dry seasons, they cancel out the reductions in water levels that are brought about by the season. This reduces the variability of the river’s water level. It is undeniable that glaciers are important with regard to the freshwater supply.



Sources:

https://public.wmo.int/en/media/news/reported-new-record-temperature-of-38%C2%B0c-north-of-arctic-circle

https://www.nationalgeographic.com/science/article/what-100-degree-day-siberia-means-climate-change

https://www.livescience.com/arctic-circle-siberia-hot-day-2021.html

https://www.copernicus.eu/en/media/image-day-gallery/land-surface-temperature-sakha-republic

https://www.iberdrola.com/environment/melting-glaciers-causes-effects-solutions

https://www.ipcc.ch/srocc/about/faq/faq-chapter-2/

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2021-06-25/heatwaves-are-scorching-siberia-and-eastern-europe-too


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