Why does warming in the arctic matter? Is it our responsibility?
The arctic is experiencing hot days. This is not uncommon. The arctic had hot days previously as a natural part of the annual climate cycle. But what makes this summer special in the arctic – and perhaps in the Earth – is the extent and frequency of these days. The arctic sets a new record each year since 2016, with 2020 expected to follow the same trend. A few weeks ago, a small Siberian town set a new record of 38 oC. This is 10oC above the average for the area. This abnormal temperature causes numerous consequences for both the residents in the area and elsewhere. The frequency and extent of wildland fire has increased in Siberia – this year is 10 times larger than the same time last year. Starting one month earlier this year, more than 1 million hectares of Siberian forests have burned since June, and it releases as much as carbon dioxide than an industrialized country like Switzerland does in a full year. This, in turn, causes permafrost thaw. In the previous posts of climate change awareness, the undesirable consequence of permafrost thaw was discussed. Briefly, permafrost, frozen soil in the arctic, holds carbon and methane. When the thaw occurs, the trapped greenhouse gases are sent back to the atmosphere. And finally, the warming trend in the arctic accelerates melting the snow cover. Therefore, the capacity of the Earth to reflect the heat reduces – soil is dark compared to the snow. One may argue that warming can be a natural part of the arctic climate cycle. The arctic has been hot before, and maybe after a few years of abnormally hot summer, the trend reverses in the short future. With recent research studies, it is almost evident that the sequential record-breaking hot days in Siberia is caused by man-made climate change. A multinational team of scientists has recently conducted an attribution study. Attribution studies aim at analyzing climate with and without the recent warming trends. In other words, using computer simulations, scientists try to learn whether a specific event, e.g. an extreme rainfall or heatwave, could have occurred if the warming trend is removed from the Earth. Recent results made it clear that it is almost impossible to have these abnormally hot days without human input to the atmosphere. Without the recent warming trend, such hot days would occur once in 80,000 years. Global warming has made this 600 times more likely i.e. once in 130 years. Therefore, the problem is not only the magnitude of these hot days, but the frequency is also excessively large and imposes a series of undesirable impacts on the Earth. We are experiencing events that almost had no chance of occurrence without our impact on the global climate. The only thing that can be done (and should be done) is to commit to the Paris Agreement and even aim at larger goals to reduce the carbon dioxide to half by 2030.