In Verkhoyansk, an Russian town of just 1,300 residents that sits north of the Arctic Circle, the first day of summer was a doozy: temperatures peaked at 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit on June 20. It was probably the hottest day ever in the town’s history, which has kept records since 1885, reports Andrew Freedman for the Washington Post.
If verified, this temperature reading would also be the highest ever recorded in the Arctic. But the record-setting day is just one of many unusually hot days that have been blistering the region, alarming scientists and residents alike.
“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,” Jonathan Overpeck, University of Michigan climate scientist, tells Daria Litvinova and Seth Borenstein of the Associated Press. “The record warming in Siberia is a warning sign of major proportions.”
This unprecedented period of warming is melting the Siberian permafrost, the frozen layer of ice and dirt in the northern Arctic. This presents a huge danger for the human residents of the region, as many of their cities, roads, airports and pipelines are built on this once-solid layer of ground, reported the Washington Post in a study of the region last year. As the permafrost melts, it also releases large amounts of trapped carbon into the atmosphere, which further contributes to climate change, according to a NASA Earth Observatory statement.
Verkhoyansk is recognized by the Guinness World Records as having the most extreme temperature range, which can dip down to minus 90 degrees Fahrenheit in the dead of winter and up to 98.96 in the summer, according to the Associated Press. As Alejandra Borunda reports for National Geographic, the Arctic has witnessed extreme heat before—Verkhoyansk recorded a 99.1 degree day in 1988, for example.
But climate change is “loading the dice” toward extreme heat waves like this one, reports Borunda. This most recent spike is likely the result of higher annual temperatures that melted the region’s snow earlier than usual, combined with a weather system that left Siberia’s skies cloudless—so the sun’s rays could easily warm the Earth below, per the Associated Press.
Climate change is having an outsized impact on the Earth’s polar regions. The Arctic is warming twice as fast as the rest of the planet, as Ramin Skibba reported for Smithsonian magazine last year.
“In this part of Siberia, the signs of climate change are already here. It’s not some distant future. It’s now,” Amber Soja, a NASA research fellow who conducted field research in the Arctic, says in the NASA statement. “The heat and fires this year are just adding more evidence to the climate change signal that we have seen in these forests for years.”