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The Arctic Is 'on Fire,' Record Heat Alarms Scientists

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Over the weekend, the Russian town of Verkhoyansk in Siberia reported a temperature of 38 degrees Celsius.

The World Meteorological Organization said Tuesday that it is looking to confirm that temperature reading. After all, Siberia is known for being frozen.

Experts are worried about what this record high temperature in the Arctic Circle might mean for the rest of the world.

The environmental group Berkeley Earth reported that from January through May, the average temperature in north-central Siberia was been about 8 degrees Celsius higher than normal. "That's much, much warmer than it's ever been over that region in that period of time," said Berkeley Earth climate scientist Zeke Hausfather.

Jonathan Overpeck is a climate scientist with the University of Michigan. He said "alarm bells should be ringing" because such extended warmth in Siberia has not been seen for thousands of years. In an email to The Associated Press, Overpeck described the Arctic as "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," he wrote.

The temperature on Earth has been growing, on average, by 0.18 degrees Celsius every 10 years. In the Russian Arctic Circle, it has been increasing by 0.69 degrees Celsius, said Andrei Kiselyov. He is the lead scientist at the Moscow-based Voeikov Main Geophysical Observatory.

The increasing temperatures in Siberia have been linked to wildfires and the melting of ice on land forms known as permafrost. The melting permafrost, in turn, releases more heat-trapping gas, dries out soil and increases wildfires.

"In this case it's even more serious, because the previous winter was unusually warm," said Vladimir Romanovsky, who studies permafrost at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

A recent oil spill near the Arctic city of Norilsk was partly blamed on melting permafrost. Last August, more than 4 million hectares of forests in Siberia were on fire. And, fires are burning already in the Arctic, ahead of the usual fire season start in July, said Vladimir Chuprov of the environmental group Greenpeace Russia.

The warm weather, wildfires and melting of permafrost affect global warming by releasing large amounts of methane, a greenhouse gas, into the atmosphere. Methane is 28 times stronger than carbon dioxide.

In this handout photo taken Sunday, June 21, 2020 and provided by Olga Burtseva, children play in the Krugloe lake outside Verkhoyansk, the Sakha Republic, about 4660 kilometers northeast of Moscow, Russia. (Olga Burtseva via AP)
In this handout photo taken Sunday, June 21, 2020 and provided by Olga Burtseva, children play in the Krugloe lake outside Verkhoyansk, the Sakha Republic, about 4660 kilometers northeast of Moscow, Russia. (Olga Burtseva via AP)

Marina Makarova is chief meteorologist at Russian weather agency Rosgidromet. She said the temperature in Verkhoyansk remained unusually high from last Friday through Monday.

Makarova added, "The ground surface heats up intensively...The nights are very warm, the air doesn't have time to cool and continues to heat up for several days."

For those who live in the Russian Arctic Circle, a heat wave has its good side. Vasilisa Ivanova spent every day this week swimming and sunbathing with her family.

"We spend the entire day on the shore of the Lena River," said Ivanova, who lives in the village of Zhigansk, about 430 kilometers from where the heat record was set.

I'm Caty Weaver.

Hai Do adapted this story for Learning English based on Associated Press news reports. Caty Weaver was the editor.

Words in This Story

alarm bell - n.​ a bell that sounds when an alarm is activated

response - n. something that is done as a reaction to something else

greenhouse gas - n. gas that causes the warming of the earth's atmosphere, known as the greenhouse effect

previous - adj. earlier in time

meteorologist - n.​ ​a scientist of the atmosphere and weather​

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