Extreme warming of the South Pole: Siberian Heat Wave
- June 30, 2020
- Ohio University
- The South Pole has been warming at more than three times the global average over the past 30 years, according to recent research.
The South Pole has been warming at more than three times the global average over the past 30 years, according to research led by Ohio University professor Ryan Fogt and OHIO alumnus Kyle Clem.
Fogt, professor of meteorology and director of the Scalia Laboratory for Atmospheric Analysis, and Clem coauthored a paper with an international team of scientists published in the journal Nature Climate Change on the findings. According to the study, this warming period was mainly driven by natural tropical climate variability and was likely intensified by increases in greenhouse gas.
Clem, a current postdoctoral research fellow in climate science at Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand, is the lead author of the study and studied under Fogt for both his bachelor’s and master’s degrees at Ohio University.
“I’ve had a passion for understanding the weather and fascination of its power and unpredictability as far back as I can remember,” Clem said. “Working with Ryan I learned all about Antarctic and Southern Hemisphere climate, specifically how West Antarctica was warming and its ice sheet was thinning and contributing to global sea level rise. I also learned that Antarctica experiences some of the most extreme weather and variability on the planet, and due to its remote location we actually know very little about the continent, so there are constant surprises and new things to learn about Antarctica every year.”
The Antarctic climate exhibits some of the largest ranges in temperature during the course of the year, and some of the largest temperature trends on the planet, with strong regional contrasts. Most of West Antarctica and the Antarctic Peninsula experienced warming and ice-sheet thinning during the late 20th century. By contrast, the South Pole — located in the remote and high-altitude continental interior — cooled until the 1980s and has since warmed substantially. These trends are affected by natural and anthropogenic climate change, but the individual contribution of each factor is not well understood.
Clem and his team analyzed weather station data at the South Pole, as well as climate models to examine the warming in the Antarctic interior. They found that between 1989 and 2018, the South Pole had warmed by about 1.8 degrees Celsius over the past 30 years at a rate of +0.6 degrees Celcius per decade — three times the global average.
The study also found that the strong warming over the Antarctic interior in the last 30 years was mainly driven by the tropics, especially warm ocean temperatures in the western tropical Pacific Ocean that changed the winds in the South Atlantic near Antarctica and increased the delivery of warm air to the South Pole. They suggest these atmospheric changes along Antarctica’s coast are an important mechanism driving climate anomalies in its interior.
Clem and Fogt argue that these warming trends were unlikely the result of natural climate change alone, emphasizing the effects of added anthropogenic warming on top of the large tropical climate signal on Antarctic climate have worked in tandem to make this one of the strongest warming trends worldwide.
“From the very beginning, Kyle and I worked very well together and were able to accomplish more as a team than we were individually,” Fogt said. “We have published every year together since 2013, with one of our continuing collaborations being the annual State of the Climate reports. Our work on this project together each year ultimately led to this publication documenting the warming at the South Pole, however, most importantly for me, apart from being a fantastic scientist and collaborator, my family and I are both honored to consider Kyle one of our closest friends.”
Just an added note – both poles are receiving warmer temperatures. In July 2020, Verkhoyank, the “cold pole” in Siberia, north of the Arctic circle had a temperature exceeding 38C.
Temperatures in Siberia — home to much of the world’s carbon-rich permafrost — were more than 5C hotter than average between January and June
Paris (AFP) – A heatwave in Siberia that saw temperature records tumble as the region sweltered in 38-degree Celsius highs was “almost impossible” without the influence of manmade climate change, leading scientists said.
An international team of researchers found that the record-breaking warm period was more than 2C hotter than it would have been if humans had not warmed the planet through decades of greenhouse gas emissions.
The five hottest years in history have occurred in the last five years and there’s a better-than-even chance that 2020 will be the hottest ever recorded.
Earth’s poles are warming faster than the rest of the planet, and temperatures in Siberia — home to much of the world’s carbon-rich permafrost — were more than 5C hotter than average between January and June.
One town, Verkhoyansk, recorded a temperature of 38C (100.4 Fahrenheit) — smashing previous records.
Andrew Ciavarella, senior detection and attribution scientist at Britain’s Met Office, described the findings released Wednesday as “staggering”.
“This is further evidence of the extreme temperatures we can expect to see more frequently around the world in a warming climate,” he said.
The impact of climate change on extreme weather events such as super storms and droughts is now well-established, but until fairly recently scientists have been unable to definitively link an individual event to global warming.
As part of a growing area of climate research known as attribution science, the team ran computer simulations of temperatures with the climate as it is today — around 1C hotter than the pre-Industrial era baseline.
They then compared this to a model generating temperatures over Siberia this year without human influence — that is, without the additional manmade 1C.
They found that the prolonged heat would happen less than once every 80,000 years without human induced climate change.
This makes the heatwave “almost impossible in a climate that had not been warmed by greenhouse gas emissions”, the team said, adding that carbon pollution had made the extreme event at least 600 times more likely to occur.
– ‘Important for everyone’ –
The team behind the calculations stressed that the Siberian heatwave was a problem for the entire globe.
Some 1.15 million hectares of forest going up in flames released millions of tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere. At the same time, the wildfires and sustained heatwaves accelerated the region’s permafrost melt.
This caused an oil tank built on frozen soil to collapse in May, leading to one of the region’s worst-ever oil spills.
Russia’s aerial forest protection service, the agency that specialises in forest fires, said Wednesday that more than 5,000 people are working on 197 fires across Russia in an area of over 40,000 hectares, including eight in nature reserves.
“Such a prolonged heat wave is important, not only for its influence on people, but also from a scientific point of view,” said Olga Zolina, from Russia’s P.P. Shirshov Institute of Oceanography.
“The arctic is very, very important generally for forming of weather and circulation. So such high temperatures are really important for the whole globe.”
While the research was compiled rapidly and has not yet been subjected to peer-review, authors said it produced “among the strongest results of any attribution study conducted to date.”
The 2015 Paris climate deal commits nations to capping temperature rises to “well-below” 2C (3.6 degrees Farenheit) above pre-industrial levels and to strive for a 1.5C limit if at all possible.
With just 1C of warming so far, Earth is already buffeted by record-breaking droughts, wild fires and super storms made more potent by rising sea levels.
To keep in line with the 1.5C target, the United Nations says global emissions must fall by 7.6 percent every year this decade.
Sonia Seneviratne, from ETH Zurich’s Department of Environmental Systems Science, said the research showed the heatwave was an example of “extreme events which would have almost no chance of happening” without manmade emissions
Watch the permafrost melt.
- Kyle R. Clem, Ryan L. Fogt, John Turner, Benjamin R. Lintner, Gareth J. Marshall, James R. Miller, James A. Renwick. Record warming at the South Pole during the past three decades. Nature Climate Change, 2020; DOI: 10.1038/s41558-020-0815-z
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