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Firefighters attempt to extinguish a wildfire in the village of Kuel in Yakutia, Sakha, Russia on August 8, 2021

Firefighters attempt to extinguish a wildfire in the village of Kuel in Yakutia, Sakha, Russia on August 8, 2021. (Photo: Ivan Nikiforov/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

Record-High Arctic Temperature of 38°C 'More Befitting the Mediterranean,' UN Warns

"This new Arctic record is one of a series of observations... that sound the alarm bells about our changing climate."

Kenny Stancil

The World Meteorological Organization on Tuesday confirmed that a new record-high Arctic temperature was set during this summer's devastating Siberian heatwave, when the Russian town of Verkhoyansk hit 38°C, or 100.4°F.

"The WMO Archive of Weather and Climate Extremes has never had so many ongoing simultaneous investigations."

"The temperature, more befitting the Mediterranean than the Arctic," was measured at a meteorological observing station on June 20, amid an "exceptional and prolonged" Siberian heatwave, the United Nations weather agency said in a statement.

"Average temperatures over Arctic Siberia reached as high as 10°C above normal for much of summer last year, fueling devastating fires, driving massive sea ice loss, and playing a major role in 2020 being one of the three warmest years on record," the agency explained.

The Arctic, which has been heating up for over a century due to greenhouse gas pollution, is one of the fastest-warming regions in the world. That is especially alarming considering that thawing permafrost portends the release of additional carbon dioxide and methane—leading to accelerated warming that causes further thawing in a vicious feedback loop.

According to a recent study, the Arctic has been heating up three times faster than the rest of the globe for the past five decades—one of many developments that climate scientists and activists have pointed to when appealing for more ambitious policies to rapidly transition away from fossil fuels, the primary source of planet-wrecking emissions.

According to WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas, "This new Arctic record is one of a series of observations reported to the WMO Archive of Weather and Climate Extremes that sound the alarm bells about our changing climate."

In addition to Mediterranean-like temperatures in the Arctic, the Antarctic continent also experienced a new record-high temperature of 18.3°C in 2020, said Taalas.

Moreover, he added, "WMO investigators are currently seeking to verify temperature readings of 54.4°C recorded in both 2020 and 2021 in the world's hottest place, Death Valley in California, and to validate a new reported European temperature record of 48.8°C in the Italian island of Sicily this summer."

"The WMO Archive of Weather and Climate Extremes has never had so many ongoing simultaneous investigations," Taalas lamented.

This year, in light of recent trends, a panel of experts created the new category of "highest recorded temperature at or north of 66.5⁰, the Arctic Circle," for the U.N. weather agency's archive.

As a result of the new Arctic category being added, both Polar regions are now represented in the international record books. The WMO has listed temperature extremes for Antarctica and its environs since 2007.

Alluding to the 38°C temperature recorded in Verkhoyansk in June, WMO evaluation committee member Blair Trewin from Australia's Bureau of Meteorology said that "verifying records of this type is important in having a reliable base of evidence as to how our climate's most extreme extremes are changing."


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