A Journal of People report
One of the coldest regions on earth has been experiencing a record-breaking heat wave in recent weeks amid growing fears about devastating wildfires and melting permafrost.
Khatanga, a town in Siberia’s Arctic Circle, registered highs of over 80 degrees Fahrenheit this week, according to Accuweather, far above the 59 degrees F historical average, as the whole of western Siberia basked in unseasonable warmth.
While locals flocked to popular spots to sunbathe, experts sounded alarms about the possible implications for the region’s wildfire season this summer, with some blazes already breaking out in recent months.
Fires burned huge areas in the region last year and, at its peak, smoke engulfed an area larger than the whole European Union, the World Meteorological Organization reported.
“It is very much possible that this year, we will have another fire catastrophe in Siberia,” Anton Beneslavskiy, a wildfire expert with Greenpeace Russia, said.
“Catastrophes became the new business as usual for Siberia in the last 20 years,” he added.
From January to April, Russia was 11 degrees F warmer than average, according to the climate science non-profit Berkeley Earth.
“That’s not only a new record anomaly for Russia. That’s the largest January to April anomaly ever seen in any country’s national average,” Robert Rohde, Berkeley Earth lead scientist tweeted.
The pace of global warming in Russia is over twice as fast as the global average, Russia’s deputy U.N. envoy said last year.
But the situation in the Arctic is even more stark with the region warming at over three times the global average.
Much of the Arctic region is covered by permafrost — carbon rich soil that should remain frozen throughout the year — and rapid warming is causing it to melt, said Thomas Smith, an assistant professor of environmental geography at the London School of Economics.
Permafrost, he said, stores vast amounts of carbon, which means that when it melts, planet-warming greenhouse gasses are emitted.
“That can further drive climate change and global warming,” he said.
“The second problem is that if the land is thawed out, and if it dries out with these high temperatures, then that soil is actually available to burn as a fuel for a fire,” he added.
These fires that emit greenhouse gases can smolder for weeks or months, “even when it has rained,” Smith said.
The unusual heat has also disrupted a number of natural cycles, according to the Siberian Times, with river ice breaking, blooms coming earlier and insects emerging earlier than normal.
While temperatures in the region have temporarily dropped, the heat is forecast to return next week.
A report, “Where is our spring? Locals in Western Siberia say it feels like they skipped a season”, in Siberian Times said: Abnormally hot May weather resembles midsummer with air temperatures as high as +35C.
The May 19, 2020 datelined report by Anna Liesowska said:
A steady heat wave has been dominating the large part of Russia from the Ural Mountains to Tuva republic for weeks since the middle of April.
Record-breaking air temperatures ranging from +30C to +35C were observed all around Western Siberia including Novosibirsk, Russia’s third largest city by population, Krasnoyarsk and nearby areas like Omsk region, Tomsk region, Kemerovo region and the Altai mountains.
Ice on the mighty Yenisei River at its port Dudinka in the Arctic north of Krasnoyarsk region started breaking almost a month before its usual time at the beginning of June.
Further south in Krasnoyarsk there is extreme activity of ticks, with the number of them spiking 200 times above the norm. In Siberia, ticks quite often carry encephalitis and Lyme disease.
Over a thousand people have already reported tick bites in Kuzbass region.
In Tyumen region doctors have been lately registering one hundred cases of tick bites a day, said head of regional infectious hospital Galina Polushkina.
Residents of Novosibirsk are seen enjoying SUP surfing and sunbathing, as ice on the mighty Yenisei River at its port Dudinka in the Arctic north of Krasnoyarsk region started breaking almost a month before its usual time at the beginning of June. Pictures: social media, Denis Denisov: Siberian Times
The report said:
People were seen coming out of coronavirus lockdown to enjoy sunbathing – not bathing yet as the water is too cold – in parks and beaches all around Western Siberia.
Apple and bird-cherry trees which normally bloom from middle to end of May were in full flower by late April, weeks ahead of their ‘normal’ schedule.
Cottonwood trees that send clouds of fluff around streets of Siberian cities from middle to late June are blossoming now.
A flower known as Northern Orchid (Cypripedium macranthos) was pictured blooming a month ahead of schedule by state inspector on Altai Biosphere reserve and photographer Sergey Usik.
Abnormally hot May weather resembles midsummer with air temperatures as high as +35C. Pictures from Krasnoyarsk region, Krasnoyarsk and Dudinka via social media and Denis Denisov: Siberian Times
The report added:
Other natural cycles got broken, too, with dragonflies waking up in forests and flowers like Paeonia anomala and Asian globeflower blossoming four, five weeks earlier than usual.
‘It’s like there was no spring and we moved from the end of winter with meters-high piles of snow straight into summer.
‘There was no spring, no weeks-long gentle rise of temperature. Somebody just clicked ‘hot air’ switch on at the end of April, and summer began. I’m Siberian-born and lived here for sixty years, I don’t remember a single spring like this’, said journalist Sergey Zubchuk from Barnaul.
Record heat was spotted in oil-rich town of Surgut with air warming to +28C in the middle of May, which is ten degrees C above the norm.
Last time similarly warm temperature above +20C was recorded decades ago in 1947, 1957 and 1962.
‘The heat wave came to us from the southwest, almost from Iran’, said associate professor Alexey Kozhukhovskiy from the department of Geography at Siberian Federal University.
He also said that relatively warm winter played a role in extremely high temperature of this May.
Normally winter weather on the huge territory from Mongolia to the Taymyr peninsula is formed by Asian maximum, otherwise known as Siberian anticyclone. The anticyclone is an area of high air pressure, which brings cold weather.
This year is ‘dissipated’ unusually fast, Kozhukhovsky said, which affected air temperature both in winter and in spring.
Unusually hot and dry weather shifted the agricultural calendar in Western Siberia by at least a couple of weeks so that seeding started in the middle of April.
Might this lead to richer harvest?
Associate professor Vladimir Kumpan, a specialist in Agricultural Sciences at Omsk State Agrarian University, said early flowering will not lead to a large crop, but rather will negatively affect its quality.
The Siberian Times report said:
Leaves of cereal crops sown in April were going yellow weeks later in May, he said, which points to lack of moisture and can damage crops if hot weather persists.
‘April 2020 was atypically warm for Omsk region. The development of plants, especially fruit and berry plants, is currently ahead by two, two and a half weeks.
‘We saw pear and apple trees blossoming simultaneously which is very rare. Abnormally hot weather can adversely affect pollination and subsequent fruit setting’, Dr Kumpan told Omsk Zdes newspaper.
Hot and dry weather have also added to lockdown misery by spiking a number of forest and steppe wildfires in Western Siberia, with two million hectares destroyed by the end of April and a fear of a lot more infernos to come should the weather continue to stay this hot.
Where is our spring? Locals in Western Siberia say it feels like they skipped a season. Pictures from Altai Nature Reserve by Sergey Usik, Tatiana Klimenko: Siberian Times
[THE REPORTS AND PHOTOGRAPHS USED HERE ARE FOR NON-PROFIT, NON-COMMERCIAL, EDUCATIONAL PURPOSE.]