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July 2019 has now been confirmed as the hottest month ever recorded.
The heatwave drifted through the Arctic and pushed Alaska to experience its warmest month ever. The state’s average temperature of 58.1°F (14.5°C) was 1°F above the previous warmest month, set in July 2004, and 5.4°F warmer than the long-term average for July.
In 125 years of record-keeping, cities and towns such as Anchorage, Utqiaġvik (formerly known as Barrow) and Kodiak all experienced their warmest month.
The increased temperatures and dry weather increased the likelihood of wildfires, triggered by lightning, which burned throughout June and July, covering large swathes of the state in thick smoke.
The combination of increased temperatures, wildfires and smoke has resulted in the complete melting of shoreline ice.
According to the National Weather Service, there is currently no sea ice within 150 miles of Alaska’s shores. Scientists have called the rapid pace of ice loss ‘unprecedented’, as the Bering Sea, which separates Alaska and Russia, is completely ice-free.
July 2019 was the 12th consecutive month in which average temperatures were above normal almost every day, Reuters reports. Out of Alaska’s 10 warmest months on record, seven have occurred since 2004.
Brian Brettschneider, a scientist with the Alaska Center for Climate Assessment and Policy (ACCAP) at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, said:
You can always have a random kind of warm month, season or even year. But when it happens year after year after year after year after year, then statistically it fails the test of randomness and it then becomes a trend.
Research suggests the far north of the globe is warming around twice as fast as the rest of the planet. According to Brettschneider, Alaska in particular has crossed a threshold, as its temperatures used to average below freezing, but are now averaging above.
Marco Tedesco, a climate scientist at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, told The Guardian:
We are seeing record after record after record.
It looks like the worst case scenario put forward by the IPCC [International Panel on Climate Change] could be an underestimate because we are seeing ice melting now that we expected 30 to 40 years from now. It’s alarming because it’s very fast-paced and the consequences are hard to predict.
The loss of ice causes several problems for communities in and around the Arctic. A number of places are facing complete relocation, while coastal towns are faced with rising sea levels. It also impacts the wildlife, as marine animals like walruses depend on the sea ice as they hunt for food, while whales and salmon have died due to the heat.
Zack Labe, a climate scientist at the University of California, Irvine, added:
While we cannot directly compare one particular extreme year to climate change, the long-term trends are obvious – sea ice is declining and temperatures are rising.
Without a dramatic reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, climate change will continue to increase the probability of extreme heatwaves around the world.
According to research, the climate crisis is making summer heatwaves five times more likely and much more intense. Governments are set to meet at the UN climate summit in New York this September to discuss the crisis.
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