Red alert for northern Siberia as heat shocks threaten tundra life

Arctic parts of Siberia in the period January-April 2020 had the world’s biggest deviation from average temperatures. (Map by NOAA)
New temperature maps for the endless stretches of Russian Arctic lands bear witness of unprecedented warming.

April 2020 follows in the wake of a number of months with record-beating temperatures in northern Siberia. The remote tundra lands located along the Arctic Ocean are now among the regions of the world with the quickest warming.

Maps from the U.S National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration show deviation from normal temperatures of more than five degrees Celsius over major parts of Siberia.

The visualizations depict average temperature departures in the first four months of 2020 with respect to a 1981-2010 base period.

Nowhere else on the globe are the same kind of dark blood-red deviation as in Siberia.

The same maps are made available by Russia’s Meteorlogical Service, Roshydromet.

(Map by NOAA)
Five degrees warmer

The trend has been going on for many years. The latest climate report by Roshydromet says that average winter temperatures along the Northern Sea Route, the waters located along the country’s Arctic coast, have increased by about 5 degrees since the 1990s. And the warming is most significant in the areas around the Kara Sea, the report reads.

The extraordinarily heat continues into spring. Temperature maps from Roshydromet show that another heat wave in mid-May swept over the region. In parts of northern Siberia, including the remote Arctic peninsulas of Yamal, Gydan and Taymyr, the average temperature on the 23rd May were as much as 16 degrees Celsius higher than normal.

Heat wave runs across northern Siberia in May 2020. (Map by Roshydromet)

The warm weather and early spring has created a record-early ice break-up of several of the great Siberian rivers, among them the Yenisey.

At the same time, the high temperatures have prepared the ground for unprecedentedly early wildfires. Authorities in the Yamal-Nenets region inform that they are already combating as many as seven fires.

Big change on tundra

The high temperatures have a major effects on ecosystems in the region. Researchers from the Tomsk State University have over the last years discovered that a big number of lakes on the Yamal-Nenets tundra have turned into wetlands.

“Normally, the formation of a drained lake is a pretty extensive and gradual process that takes several decades,” says head of research project Sergey Loiko. “But in this case, everything happens several ten times quicker,” he explains.

When a research team from the university was in the region in 2016, a lake disappeared in just few weeks, the university writes on its website.

The year 2016 is so far the warmest on record. But the following years have been only slightly colder. According to Roshydromet, 2019 was the second warmest year in the Arctic since measurements started in 1936.

The higher temperatures are accompanied by rapid growth of vegetation and greening of the region. This trend is very clear for indigenous peoples in the area, the researchers say.

Over the last decades they have seen a significant change of local biodiversity, the appearance of grass and new kinds of animals and insects.

Expansion of industry

The Arctic warming is evident also for the Russian shipping industry that over the last years has been able to make it across Arctic waters easier than any time before.

Supported by the lighter ice conditions in the area, ships in 2019 transported 31,5 million tons of goods on the Northern Sea Route, an increase of almost 60 percent from the previous year.

On 18th May, LNG carrier “Christophe de Margerie set out from Arctic seaport Sabetta in Yamal with course for the eastern part of the Northern Sea Route. The eastbound voyage on the route is this year’s first of its kind and comes more than a month earlier than the previous years.

A few days later, the carrier was accompanied by sister ship “Vladimir Voronin”, that now is entering melting Arctic sea ice with course for China.

Related stories from around the North:

Arctic: Roundup of COVID-19 responses around the Arctic, Eye on the Arctic

Canada: Arctic researchers prepare for a summer where they can’t travel to Canada’s North, CBC News

Finland: Precipitation levels in North Finland 1.5 –2 times higher than average, Eye on the Arctic

Greenland: COVID-19 delay, early ice melt challenge international Arctic science mission, The Associated Press

Iceland: Ice-free Arctic summers likely by 2050, even with climate action: study, Radio Canada International

Norway: Svalbard: Colder than normal for the first time in 10 years, The Independent Barents Observer

Russia: Unprecedented early ice breakup in Russian Arctic highlights dramatic change, The Independent Barents Observer

Sweden: January temperatures about 10°C above normal in parts of northern Sweden, says weather service, Radio Sweden

United States: Temperatures nearing all-time records in Southcentral Alaska, Alaska Public Media

Atle Staalesen, The Independent Barents Observer

For more news from the Barents region visit The Independent Barents Observer.

Do you want to report an error or a typo? Click here!

Leave a Reply

Note: By submitting your comments, you acknowledge that Radio Canada International has the right to reproduce, broadcast and publicize those comments or any part thereof in any manner whatsoever. Radio Canada International does not endorse any of the views posted. Your comments will be pre-moderated and published if they meet netiquette guidelines.
Netiquette »

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *