Arctic to See 'Savage' Temperatures, 'Tropical Nights,' As Siberia Hits 95°F

Parts of the Arctic are set to experience intense heat over the next few days as sea ice in the region falls to record lows.

Meteorologists say temperatures in parts of Siberia could reach well into the 90s over the next few days, the latest heat wave in a year that has seen unusually persistent warm weather in the region.

"Savage heat for several days incoming for Siberia. Again," tweeted Scott Duncan from utility company EDF Energy.

Duncan said the minimum temperature in some parts of Arctic Siberia will not drop below 68 degrees Fahrenheit for several days, what some countries refer to as a "tropical night," according to a series of tweets.

"Truly mind-blowing. Records likely to fall," he wrote.

In fact, one location in northern Siberia called Kujga, found within the Arctic circle at a latitude of 70 degrees North, recorded a temperature of 95 degrees Fahrenheit (35 degrees Celsius) on Tuesday, according to NASA data as wildfires engulfed the region around it.

"Imagine standing at 70°N in scorching +35°C heat with the smell of wildfire smoke filling the air. Visibility is reduced but daylight is endless," Duncan tweeted.

Meteorologists say that an unusually strong area of high pressure is lingering over northern Russia, a phenomenon that tends to promote clear skies, maximizing the amount of solar radiation that reaches the surface.

While heat waves in the Arctic during summer are not unheard of, the past several months have been unseasonably warm in the region—which is warming at around twice the rate of the rest of the planet.

"Parts of Siberia will likely see temperatures well into the 90s [over the coming days,] which is not particularly unusual in and of itself—what makes it unusual is the extraordinary persistence of the warm anomalies this year," Weather Channel meteorologist Carl Parker told Newsweek.

"This has been going on for months, and an enormous expanse of Siberia, more than 3,700 miles across, was 9 degrees Fahrenheit above average from January to June," he said. "This is a preview of our future. A recent analysis found that the Siberian heatwave of 2020 was made 600 times more likely by climate change—in other words, without our contribution, it would not have occurred."

In the case of Arctic Siberia, unusually warm areas of high pressure have contributed to excess melting and drying in the region, leading to record low snow cover and surface soil moisture in June.

"Less reflection from snow means more sunlight is warming the ground. The drier ground is converting more of that [radiation] to heat, and very high latitudes are getting a great deal of sunshine at this time of year. All of this allows anomalously warm ridges of high pressure to build more easily," Parker said.

The intense heat sweeping across the Arctic over the next few days will have an impact on the sea ice, which in the Siberian Arctic is melting faster than any year over the past 40 years. As of July 18, Arctic sea ice extent was nearly 500,000 square kilometers, an area about the size of Spain, lower than the previous lowest extent for that date.

And on July 20, Arctic sea ice extent was around 30 percent lower (equivalent to 3 million square kilometers) than the 1979-1990 average for that date.

"Arctic sea ice is falling off a cliff this year," Parker said. "And these changes are accelerating. As we radically alter the regions that cool the planet, we are tampering with the stability of systems that we all depend upon."

Duncan said the intense heat will help to warm the sea surface on the fringes of the Arctic Ocean in some places. This would not have been possible in the 1980s when these areas were covered in ice, however, vast stretches of ice have melted in these areas this year, according to Duncan.

"2020 is exceptional and record low but is not really a 'one off'. Our concept of what is normal is very different to that of 40 years ago," Duncan tweeted.

According to Parker, the increased melting of ice could lead to a feedback effect that only accelerates further ice loss.

"Sea ice has a very high albedo, meaning that it reflects 50 to 70 percent of incoming solar radiation, and as much as 90 percent when covered in snow. Open ocean on the other hand reflects only 6 percent, so melting sea ice becomes self-reinforcing, or a climate feedback mechanism, causing even more melting.

As the open ocean warms, higher water temperatures eat away at the ice. In fact, ice melt in the Laptey and East Siberian seas are part of the reason why Siberia is among the fastest-warming places in the world, Parker said.

The latest Arctic heat wave comes after nearly a dozen American researchers returned home from the largest polar expedition in history, dubbed MOSAiC.

Launched in September 2019 and scheduled to end in September this year, MOSAiC is the first year-round expedition into the central Arctic. Its aim is to investigate the epicenter of global warming from German icebreaker RV Polarstern. By the end of the expedition, around 600 experts from 20 nations will have taken part in research in the central Arctic.

The year-long expedition is significant because for six months every winter, Arctic sea ice is too thick for these ships to penetrate through, meaning data from the central Arctic for this period is severely lacking.

To overcome this obstacle, Polartsern began breaking through the ice while it was still able after departing from Norway in September. The crew then allowed the ship to become trapped as temperatures dropped. Since then, the vessel has gradually drifted across the central Arctic within the ice due to a phenomenon called Transpolar Drift.

While research conducted by the various scientific teams involved has yet to be published, expedition researchers shared some of their observations with Newsweek.

"The ice is on average getting thinner as we go through the decades. So for example, the ice that we saw in the measurements I was making on MOSAiC, if you compare them to measurements that were made back on SHEBA, which was the last really large multinational drift experiment, we saw thinner ice than they did," David Clemens-Sewall, a PhD candidate at Dartmouth College, told Newsweek. "I don't think it'll surprise anyone to find out that as climate change progresses, as we move to warmer temperatures and a more seasonal ice pack, that we get thinner ice."

Intriguingly, scientists also observed unexpectedly large cracks and openings in the ice as early as March—created by the dynamics, or motion, of the ice.

"Some of the cracks are fairly small and in other cases, we're talking about vast stretches of open water where it's quite difficult to see the ice on the other side of it," Jeff Bowman, from Scripps Institution of Oceanography, told Newsweek.

"And you're talking about that happening 86 degrees north in March. Essentially, you're still deep within the winter period, it's minus 30 degrees Celsius, you wake up one morning and you step outside and all of a sudden, there's open water in front of you for kilometers in all directions. Even to people that study the dynamics of the sea ice it was surprising."

While it's not clear how the extent of these openings in the ice at this time of year compare to other years due to a lack of data, the scientists speculate that the situation would have been very different half a century ago.

"This is speculation, but I would expect that if we rewound the clock 50 years and went up there and did a MOSAiC, you would not have seen that, or at least to that extent," Jeff said. "But we don't have those observations so we don't know."

Arctic sea ice
Sea ice is seen from NASA's Operation IceBridge research aircraft off the northwest coast on March 30, 2017 above Greenland. Mario Tama/Getty Images
Arctic to See 'Savage' Temperatures, 'Tropical Nights,' As Siberia Hits 95°F | Tech & Science