Siberian heat wave alarms scientists

This photo taken on Friday, June 19, 2020 and provided by ECMWF Copernicus Climate Change Service shows the land surface temperature in the Siberia region of Russia. A record-breaking temperature of 38 degrees Celsius (100.4 degrees Fahrenheit) was registered in the Arctic town of Verkhoyansk on Saturday, June 20 in a prolonged heatwave that has alarmed scientists around the world. (ECMWF Copernicus Climate Change Service via AP)

MOSCOW (AP) — The Arctic is feverish and on fire — at least parts of it are. And that’s got scientists worried about what it means for the rest of the world.

The thermometer hit a likely record of 38 degrees Celsius (100.4 degrees Fahrenheit) in the Russian Arctic town of Verkhoyansk on Saturday, a temperature that would be a fever for a person — but this is Siberia, known for being frozen. The World Meteorological Organization said Tuesday that it’s looking to verify the temperature reading, which would be unprecedented for the region north of the Arctic Circle.

“The Arctic is figuratively and literally on fire — it’s warming much faster than we thought it would in response to rising levels of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, and this warming is leading to a rapid meltdown and increase in wildfires,” University of Michigan environmental school dean Jonathan Overpeck, a climate scientist, said in an email.

“The record warming in Siberia is a warning sign of major proportions,” Overpeck wrote.

Much of Siberia had high temperatures this year that were beyond unseasonably warm. From January through May, the average temperature in north-central Siberia has been about 8 degrees Celsius (14 degrees Fahrenheit) above average, according to the climate science non-profit Berkeley Earth.

“That’s much, much warmer than it’s ever been over that region in that period of time,” Berkeley Earth climate scientist Zeke Hausfather said.

Siberia is in the Guinness Book of World Records for its extreme temperatures. It’s a place where the thermometer has swung 106 degrees Celsius (190 degrees Fahrenheit), from a low of minus 68 degrees Celsius (minus 90 Fahrenheit) to now 38 degrees Celsius (100.4 Fahrenheit).

For residents of the Sakha Republic in the Russian Arctic, a heat wave is not necessarily a bad thing. Vasilisa Ivanova spent every day this week with her family swimming and sunbathing.

“We spend the entire day on the shore of the Lena River,” said Ivanova, who lives in the village of Zhigansk, 270 miles (430 kilometers) from where the heat record was set. “We’ve been coming every day since Monday.”

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