New heatwave in June reached to the Arctic | Polarjournal
Alaska showed above average temperatures already in May and it continued through the end of June. For example, in the northernmost community of the U.S. state, Utqiavik, 18°C was reported. This leads to supply problems and also more wild and tundra fires. Image: NASA Earth Observatory

Summertime equals hot season, there is nothing unusual about that. Those who had then previously sought cooling, spent the vacation in the northern regions such as Scandinavia or even Alaska. And those who wanted it really cool took a trip to Svalbard, Alaska or Greenland. But this year, the weather stations reported heat records not only in Central and Southern Europe. Unusually high temperatures were also reported in the far north throughout June.

Daytime temperatures of over 30°C in Tromsø, 20.1°C on Bear Island between northern Norway and 6°C average temperature at Longyearbyen airport for June were reported by the Norwegian Meteorological Office. And temperatures in Alaska were no better: 18°C in Alaska’s northernmost community of Utqiavik while the rest of the state also barely experienced temperatures below 20°C, even rising into the 30°C range in the more southerly areas of the largest state in the United States. Arctic regions “boiled” in June, as did much of central and southern Europe and central regions in the US.

In Svalbard, temperatures in June were not only very high in Longyearbyen, but also Ny Ålesund reported temperatures above normal. On average, the thermometer was 2.9°C above normal at 5.7°C, which is a new record. The previous one dated back to 2006, when it had showed 4.2°C. And the further south one went, the higher the temperature rose. For experts at the Norwegian Meteorological Office, these records are not really surprising. “The Barents region is warming about 2.5 times faster and about 6 times higher than the rest of the world,” a spokeswoman explains. Satellite images show that the warming is likely to have triggered major melting processes on many glaciers and ice sheets in Svalbard’s east.

The above-average temperatures in large parts of the Arctic have not been without consequences. Humans and animals are looking for ways to cool down. In Alaska, media reported a sharp increase in health problems due to temperatures as high as 20°C. Speaking to news platform KTOO, one expert explained that effects such as asthmatic attacks, cardiovascular problems and respiratory problems are already being seen at 20°C. And for the animal and plant world, these high temperatures also have consequences. This is because they are not adapted to long periods of warmth, and especially well-insulated animals such as polar bears seek cooling in water and in what little snow is left. But those who rest cannot hunt, which is a big problem especially for mothers with cubs. Evading to the pack ice edge is also not an option for the animals at the moment. Data from the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) in Colorado show that the pack ice edge has receded further than normal in the regions with the highest warming, making it inaccessible for polar bears with cubs.

And further south in Alaska, the tundra fires that have been burning for several weeks still continue to blaze as the vegetation has dried out severely. How the situation will develop further is not clear at this point. But one thing is for sure: After far higher than usual temperatures have already been measured at both polar regions in March, the outlook also seems to point to a hot phase in summer.

Dr. Michael Wenger, PolarJournal

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