Monday, September 25, 2023

More arctic lightning is bad news for the planet

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The Arctic is not make it so hot. This is because it is, in fact, as well hot. It warms up at least twice as fast like the rest of the planet, which triggers vicious feedback loops that accelerate change. Ice, for example, is more reflective than the ground, so when it melts, the area absorbs more solar energy. Darker vegetation is growing in the northern lands, absorbing even more heat from the sun. And when permafrost thaws, it releases gobs of greenhouse gases, which further warm the climate.

The Arctic has become so bizarre that lightning – a hot weather phenomenon most common in the tropics – is now striking near the north pole. And according to new modeling, the electric bombardment of the region will only get worse. By the end of the century, the number of lightning strikes in the Arctic could more than double, which could trigger a shocking cascade of ripple effects, namely more forest fires and more warming. “The Arctic is a rapidly changing place, and it’s one aspect of the transformation that I’m not sure has garnered a lot of attention, but it’s actually really big,” says Daniel Swain, specialist. of the climate at UCLA, which was not involved. in the search.

To make thunderstorms, you need a lot of heat. When the sun heats the earth, warm air and humidity rise in the atmosphere. At the same time, the cold air from the system descends. This creates a swirling mass known as a deep convective cloud, which in turn creates electrical charges that turn into lightning.

Lightning in the far north of Canada

Photography: Sandra Angers-Blondin

This is normal in the tropics, where there is a lot of heat, but the Arctic should be cold enough to better withstand this large-scale rise of warm air. More, apparently. “As the surface warms, you will have more energy to push air into high latitudes,” says Yang Chen, climate specialist at UC Irvine, senior author of a paper in Nature’s climate change describing the modeling. “And also because the atmosphere is warmer, it can contain more water vapor.”

Put them together and you have big flashy storms now moving within 100 miles of the North Pole. (Scientists can locate strikes in the remote area with a worldwide network of radio detectors: When a bolt hits the ground, it turns into a sort of radio tower, sending out a signal.) And where you have lightning, you have potential for fire, especially as the Arctic heats up. and dry. “The Heatwave 2020 in the Russian Arctic shows how, even at high latitudes, very hot weather conditions can develop, which can lead to fires that burn intensely and can become very large, ”says Isla Myers-Smith, ecologist at the University from Edinburgh who is studying the area but has not been involved in this new work. “A a lot of burnt area during the 2020 fire season in the Russian Arctic. “


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