Siberian Heat Wave Was Made 600x More Likely by the Climate Crisis, Scientists Say


Scientists say that a record-breaking Arctic heat wave was made 600 times more likely by the man-made climate crisis. PBS NewsHour / YouTube

The record-breaking heat in the Arctic saw temperatures soar above 100 degrees for the first time in recorded history. Now, a new analysis has put to rest any notion that the heat was caused by natural temperature fluctuations.

The study found that the record-breaking heat wave was made 600 times more likely by the man-made climate crisis, as The Guardian reported. In other words, the heat wave is nearly impossible without the climate crisis.

The heat in Siberia has produced conditions both strange and awful, with massive wildfires, ravening mosquitoes and shaky permafrost that has caused infrastructure damage, including a burst fuel tank that released about 23,000 tons of diesel fuel into a pristine lake. The wildfires have spread farther north than ever before and have put more greenhouse gases into the earth’s atmosphere than in any other month in 18 years of data collection, according to one report.

To figure out if human actions played a role in the unprecedented heat wave in Siberia, the researchers looked at two recent examples of exceptional heating in the region. The first was a look at the trend line from January through June of this year, when the average temperatures in the region were 9 degrees Fahrenheit hotter than the average temperatures from 1951 to 1980. The second was the remarkable heat on June 20 that saw temperatures at the Russian town of Verkhoyansk at a reported 100.4 degrees, which the Russian Meteorological Service said is a record for temperatures anywhere north of the Arctic Circle, as The New York Times reported.

The research was conducted by a group of 14 scientists from six countries who collaborated to figure how something this out-of-bounds could occur. Their comprehensive climate attribution study declared, “This large-scale prolonged event would have been essentially impossible without climate change,” as CBS News reported.

For context, the researchers said that if, hypothetically, you lived in this region before around 1900, when human-caused climate impacts started to emerge, a heat event as widespread, prolonged and intense as this would only occur once every 80,000 years — or about once every 1,000 lifetimes, according to CBS News.

For all practical purposes, said Friederike Otto, acting director of the Environmental Change Institute at the University of Oxford and an author of the paper, “you would not have gotten an event like this without climate change,” as The New York Times reported.

In a statement, Andrew Ciavarella, the lead author of the research and senior detection and attribution scientist at the Met Office, the national meteorological service for Britain, called the result “truly staggering,” according to The New York Times.

Climate scientists use advanced computer simulations to compare the climate as it is today with the climate as it would have been without human influence to see how likely different weather events would have been if our species had never altered the atmosphere, according to the BBC. In this study, the researchers looked at the temperature abnormalities by observational surface temperature records and they recreated the climate using dozens of climate computer models. They delved into rich troves of data to determine how much of a weather phenomenon may have been caused by human activities that have generated planet-warming greenhouse gases, as The New York Times reported.

The researchers say that the current Siberian heat “has contributed to raising the world’s average temperature to the second hottest on record for the period January to May,” as the BBC reported.

“This study shows again just how much of a game-changer climate change is with respect to heat waves,” said Otto, as The Guardian reported. “As emissions continue to rise, we need to think about building resilience to extreme heat all over the world, even in Arctic communities – which would have seemed nonsensical not very long ago.”

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