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The Arctic Circle saw record-high temperatures in 2020, NOAA report finds

U.N. climate report issues dire warning
U.N. climate report issues dire warning 02:05

Last summer, Russia reached 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit — the highest temperature ever measured within the Arctic Circle, according to an annual climate report released Wednesday by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. With help from a record-breaking concentration of carbon dioxide on the planet, the Arctic's surface air temperature broke a 121-year record in 2020.

"Today scientists sounded the alarm on the climate crisis again," Representative Eddie Bernice Johnson, chair of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, said in a statement regarding the report. "It is clear that without swift action, we can unfortunately expect to set new records like these every year."

The 31st annual State of the Climate report, published by the American Meteorological Society and led by the NOAA, is based on work from over 530 scientists in more than 60 different countries. It confirmed 2020 was among the three warmest years in recorded history. Despite a 6% to 7% reduction of carbon dioxide emissions as a result of the pandemic shutdowns, carbon dioxide emissions reached its highest level of concentration at the planet's surface in at least the last 800,000 years.

"This is a stark reminder that factors leading to a changing climate are determined by time horizons far longer than a single year and have an inertia that will take a significant effort over a much longer period to halt, much less reverse," the report said.

The year-over-year increase in global carbon dioxide levels over the past half century has tripled, resulting in above-average temperatures across the world, the report found.

In Siberia — just north of the Arctic Circle — record temperatures led to quick snowmelt. In fact, the entire Eurasian continent saw its fourth-smallest snow cover extent in May of last year, and its record smallest in June. 

Siberia, which is usually one of the coldest areas in the world, also reported its worst fire year, as measured by the amount of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere. Wildfires have become more common in the area over the past five years, with the number of fires increasing each year. Several weeks ago, smoke from its wildfires reached the North Pole for the first time in history.

This photo, taken from an airplane on July 27, 2021, shows the smoke rising from a forest fire outside the village of Berdigestyakh, in the republic of Sakha, Siberia.  DIMITAR DILKOFF/AFP via Getty Images

Meanwhile, "extreme warmth" reached Antarctica in 2020 as an atmospheric river brought unprecedented temperatures to the continent, the report found. 

On February 6, 2020, Esperanza Station — located on the Antarctic Peninsula — reached its highest temperature ever recorded at 64.94 degrees Fahrenheit. The heat brought the largest end of summer surface melt in 43 years, which impacted more than half of the Peninsula. 

The year 2020 also saw the highest global sea levels, highest average ocean heat content and most tropical cyclones ever recorded.

Earlier this month, the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said the impacts of climate change are "extreme" and "unprecedented," and it's expected to get worse "unless deep reductions in carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gas emissions occur in the coming decades."

U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres said the report is a "code red for humanity" and called for "immediate action on energy." 

"The alarm bells are deafening, and the evidence is irrefutable: greenhouse‑gas emissions from fossil-fuel burning and deforestation are choking our planet and putting billions of people at immediate risk," Guterres said in a statement earlier this month. "Global heating is affecting every region on Earth, with many of the changes becoming irreversible."

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