Scientists stunned by rare Arctic lightning storms north of Alaska

Arctic temperatures rising at twice the global average

Graeme Massie
Los Angeles
Sunday 18 July 2021 21:03
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Related video: Arctic nations agree to fight the climate crisis despite tensions

Scientists have been left stunned by a string of rare Arctic lightning storms north of Alaska.

Weather experts say that three successive thunderstorms swept across the Arctic, where the air normally lacks the convective heat required to create lightning.

“Forecasters hadn’t seen anything like that before,” said Ed Plumb, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Fairbanks.

But scientists say that this could become more common as the climate crisis heats up the Arctic quicker than the rest of the world. Temperatures are rising in the region at twice the global annual average.

Researchers say that summer lightning in the Arctic Circle has tripled since 2010. A March study in the journal Geophysical Research Letters linked it to a loss of sea ice.

When the sea ice disappears, scientists say more water is able to evaporate, adding moisture to the warming atmosphere.

“It’s going to go with the temperatures,” said the study’s co-author Robert Holzworth, an atmospheric physicist at the University of Washington in Seattle.

The study documented more frequent lighting over the region’s treeless tundra regions, as well as above the Arctic Ocean and pack ice.

Researchers even found that in August 2019 lightning struck within 60 miles of the North Pole.

“What used to be very rare is now just rare,” said Rick Thoman, a climate scientist with the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

He added: “I have no memory of three consecutive days of this kind of thing.”

The increase in lighting has resulted in more forest fires in the Russian region of Siberia, as well as in Alaska, where in June 18,000 acres of tundra burned north of the Arctic Circle in the Noatak National Preserve.

Increased heat in the region also encourages growth of vegetation, which in turn becomes fuel for the fires.

Scientists at the International Arctic Research Center in Fairbanks predict that by the end of the century twice as much Alaska tundra could burn on a regular basis than previously seen.

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