The Arctic is burning like never before — and that’s bad news for climate change

The Arctic is burning like never before — and that’s bad news for climate change

SOURCE: Nature DATE: September 10, 2020 SNIP: Wildfires blazed along the Arctic Circle this summer, incinerating tundra, blanketing Siberian cities in smoke and capping the second extraordinary fire season in a row. By the time the fire season waned at the end of last month, the blazes had emitted a record 244 megatonnes of carbon dioxide — that’s 35% more than last year, which also set records. One culprit, scientists say, could be peatlands that are burning as the top of the world melts. Peatlands are carbon-rich soils that accumulate as waterlogged plants slowly decay, sometimes over thousands of years. They are the most carbon-dense ecosystems on Earth; a typical northern peatland packs in roughly ten times as much carbon as a boreal forest. When peat burns, it releases its ancient carbon to the atmosphere, adding to the heat-trapping gases that cause climate change. Nearly half the world’s peatland-stored carbon lies between 60 and 70 degrees north, along the Arctic Circle. The problem with this is that historically frozen carbon-rich soils are expected to thaw as the planet warms, making them even more vulnerable to wildfires and more likely to release large amounts of carbon. It’s a feedback loop: as peatlands release more carbon, global warming increases, which thaws more peat and causes more wildfires. A study published last month1 shows that northern peatlands could eventually shift from being a net sink for carbon to a net source of carbon, further accelerating climate change. The unprecedented Arctic wildfires of 2019 and 2020 show that transformational shifts are already under way, says Thomas Smith, an environmental geographer at the London...
Arctic warming: are record temperatures and fires arriving earlier than scientists predicted?

Arctic warming: are record temperatures and fires arriving earlier than scientists predicted?

SOURCE: The Conversation DATE: September 8, 2020 SNIP: It was a grim record. On June 20 2020, the mercury reached 38°C in Verkhoyansk, Siberia – the hottest it’s ever been in the Arctic in recorded history. With the heatwaves came fire, and by the start of August around 600 individual fires were being detected every day. By early September, parts of the Siberian Arctic had been burning since the second week of June. CO₂ emissions from these fires increased by more than a third compared to 2019, according to scientists at the Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service. The wildfires produced an estimated 244 megatons of CO₂ between January and August, releasing thousands of years’ worth of stored carbon. The summer of 2019 was already a record breaker for temperatures and fires across the Arctic. Seeing these events unfold again in 2020 – on an even larger scale – has the scientific community worried. What does it all mean for the Arctic, climate change and the rest of the world? Even with climate change, the severe summer heatwave of 2020 was expected to occur, on average, less than once every 130 years. Wildfire observations in the Arctic are fairly limited prior to the mid-1990s, but there is no evidence of similarly extreme fires in the years before routine monitoring started. Higher temperatures globally are likely to be driving the increase in wildfire frequency and duration. But modelling wildfires is difficult. Climate models don’t predict wildfires, and they cannot indicate when future extreme events will occur year-on-year. Instead, climate modellers focus on whether they are able to predict the right conditions for...
As Arctic ice melts, polluting ships stream into polar waters

As Arctic ice melts, polluting ships stream into polar waters

SOURCE: Reuters DATE: August 27, 2020 SNIP: As melting sea ice opens the Arctic to navigation, more ships are plying the loosely regulated polar waters, bringing increasing amounts of climate-warming pollution, a Reuters analysis of new shipping and fuel-consumption data shows. Traffic through the icy region’s busiest lane along the Siberian coast increased 58% between 2016 and 2019. Last year, ships made 2,694 voyages on the Northern Sea Route, according to data collected by researchers from the Centre for High North Logistics at Norway’s Nord University. The trade is driven by commodities producers – mainly in Russia, China and Canada – sending iron ore, oil, liquefied natural gas (LNG) and other fuels through Arctic waters. Even the COVID-19 pandemic, which has significantly slowed shipping worldwide as supply chains have been disrupted, has not prevented traffic increasing on the Arctic artery. Ships made 935 voyages in the first half of 2020, up to the end of June, compared with 855 in the same period last year, the data shows. The increase in shipping is a worry for the environment. As those heavy ships burn fuel, they release climate-warming carbon dioxide as well as black soot. That soot blankets nearby ice and snow, absorbing solar radiation rather than reflecting it back out of the atmosphere, which exacerbates warming in the region. “The driving concern is the reduction of Arctic sea ice and the potential for more shipping,” said Sian Prior, lead adviser with the Clean Arctic Alliance. “We are already seeing that happen.” LNG tankers make up the largest proportion of traffic on the Northern Sea Route. They alone burned 239,000...
Sea level rise quickens as Greenland ice sheet sheds record amount

Sea level rise quickens as Greenland ice sheet sheds record amount

SOURCE: Phys.org DATE: August 21, 2020 SNIP: Greenland’s massive ice sheet saw a record net loss of 532 billion tonnes last year, raising red flags about accelerating sea level rise, according to new findings. That is equivalent to an additional three million tonnes of water streaming into global oceans every day, or six Olympic pools every second. Crumbling glaciers and torrents of melt-water slicing through Greenland’s ice block—as thick as ten Eiffel Towers end-to-end—were the single biggest source of global sea level rise in 2019 and accounted for 40 percent of the total, researchers reported in the journal Communications Earth & Environment. Last year’s loss of mass was at least 15 percent above the previous record in 2012, but even more alarming are the long-term trends, they said. “2019 and the four other record-loss years have all occurred in the last decade,” lead author Ingo Sasgen, a glaciologist at the Helmholtze Centre for Polar and Marine Research in Germany, told AFP. The ice sheet is now tracking the worst-case global warming scenario of the UN’s climate science advisory panel, the IPCC, noted Andrew Shepherd, director of the Centre for Polar Observation and Modelling at the University of Leeds. “This means we need to prepare for an extra ten centimetres or so of global sea level rise by 2100 from Greenland alone,” said Shepherd, who was not involved in the study. Scientists not involved in the research were not surprised by the findings, but expressed concern. “The ice sheet has lost ice every year for the last 20 years,” said Twila Moon, a research scientists at the University of Colorado....
Trump in final push to open up Alaska’s Arctic refuge to oil and gas drilling

Trump in final push to open up Alaska’s Arctic refuge to oil and gas drilling

SOURCE: The Guardian DATE: August 17, 2020 SNIP: The Trump administration is taking the final steps to let oil and gas companies drill in the Arctic national wildlife refuge – which environment advocates call the nation’s “last great wilderness”. The US interior department will auction leases before the end of the year, secretary David Bernhardt told the Wall Street Journal. That could make it harder for Democrats to reverse the decision if Joe Biden wins the election in November. The 19-million-acre refuge in north-east Alaska, known as ANWR, is a wellspring for wildlife. The move will open up the 1.6 million-acre coastal plane, where polar bears and foxes reside and to or through which millions of migratory birds fly. The porcupine caribou herd is critically important to the indigenous Gwich’in people, many of whom make their homes on or near its migration route. “This is our nation’s last great wilderness,” said Adam Kolton, the executive director of the Alaska Wilderness League. “Nowhere else in the five-nation circle polar north do you have such abundant and diverse wildlife.” Trump…has been touting his “energy dominance” agenda, rolling back methane standards for the oil and gas industry last week. Republicans in Congress changed the laws to require leasing in part of the refuge in their tax bill in 2017, when they controlled both chambers. The refuge has been protected since 1980. Polls show a majority of Americans oppose drilling in ANWR. “There’s no good time to open up America’s largest wildlife refuge to drilling, but it’s absolutely bonkers to endanger this beautiful place during a worldwide oil glut,” said Kristen Monsell, an...