Are Tardigrades The Most Indestructible Animals on Earth? There’s a Close Contender

(Steve Gschmeissner/Science Photo Library/Getty Images)




Humans wouldn’t survive two minutes in space, but in 2007, two species of tardigrades were released into space and then collected again – still alive.

Tardigrades are a group of tiny invertebrate species that live all over the world – you can probably find one yourself on a piece of moss in your back garden or local park. Actually, you can find them pretty much anywhere – on a mountain top, at the bottom of the sea or even in a volcano!

Astrobiologist Dr Jon Stone from McMaster University summarises how they can survive a battery of extreme conditions, including temperatures as cold as -180°C for 14 days or oven heat of 151°C for 30 minutes.

They can also survive “5000 Gy gamma radiation (which is the radiation type that, in the Marvel Universe, transformed David Banner into the Incredible Hulk). Where 5-10 Gy kills humans” says Dr Stone.

They can also survive being in a frozen state for 30 years and potentially up to 100 years, although that long is still contested writes Dr Stone.

But are tardigrades the most indestructible animals on Earth? We asked eight biologists who study them – 63 percent said “Yes” meaning there is still some debate on this question. Here’s what we learned from experts.

Why are tardigrades so indestructible?

When conditions are difficult to live in, tardigrades curl up into a ball called a tun. When in a tun, the tardigrade goes into a kind of ‘paused’ state, called ‘cryptobiosis’.

During cryptobiosis, animals don’t move, grow or reproduce, but they are protected from extreme conditions. There are multiple types of cryptobiosis depending on what conditions you are dealing with.

The best-studied type is called ‘anhydrobiosis’, which protects from cells drying out when there is no water.

If cells dry out, lots of things can get damaged like their DNA and membranes. When some animals undergo anhydrobiosis, their cells become filled with a sugar called trehalose, which protects the cell contents until there is water again.

Anhydrobiosis in tardigrades was discovered way back in 1702, when scientist Anton von Leewenhoek dried out and revived the tardigrades he found on house roofs. Tardigrades can remain in cryptobiosis with no food or water for years, for at least 30 years if frozen.

Marine tardigrades are not indestructible

There are more than 1,400 known species of tardigrades and each differs in their ability to undergo different types of cryptobiosis. Biologist Dr William Miller From Baker University explains, “Terrestrial tardigrades in cryptobiosis are very resistant to destruction … But marine and freshwater tardigrades do not exhibit cryptobiosis, and thus are very destructible.”

Similarly, only some species of tardigrades make trehalose, the sugar substance that protects cells during anhydrobiosis.

The species of tardigrades that don’t make trehalose may have some other tricks to protect them from harsh conditions like special proteins that turn into a glass-like substance to protect cells. There is lots of interesting research to be done to understand this set of survival tools, but it’s clear tardigrades can’t all be lumped together.

Some things that can destroy a tardigrade

Generally tardigrades are way more resistant to changes in their environment than most animals. They are often studied in an astrophysical context – for example identifying whether they would survive if Earth was hit by an asteroid.

However, this doesn’t mean they are indestructible against everything – as expert Dr Dennis Persson puts it, “Tardigrades are certainly one of the most stress-tolerant animals on Earth, but they are very easily destroyed with the prick of a needle, or eaten by other animals, fungi and protists.”

Although tardigrades are resilient in some ways, they are vulnerable to things that most animals are in danger of, such as predators and infections.

Tardigrades vs Nematodes

Working out whether tardigrades are the most indestructible animals, we need to know about the competition. Ecologist Dr Diego Fontaneto explains that ‘other animals can survive what we consider extreme conditions for life.

Among them, there are nematodes and rotifers, which share similar life-history strategies, habitats, and body size with tardigrades. These animals survive desiccation and freezing as much as tardigrades, if not even better than tardigrades.’

Other animals that have the cryptobiosis trick up their sleeves include nematode worms, some kinds of shrimp, and even some species of plants and yeast! Nematodes have been particularly well studied, and paleobiologist Dr Graham Budd notes that “The record for survival in a dehydrated state is held by the nematode Tylenchus polyhypnus at 39 years.”

And the tardigrade Vs nematode battle has not been verified yet. “In general, as different animals have different survival capabilities in different conditions, it is difficult to single one type out as the ‘most resilient ever’,” says Dr Budd.

Takeaway: Tardigrades may be the most indestructible animal, but they are not resistant to any type of harm and many experts say Nematodes are a close challenger to this title. Despite the debate, it’s certain that we are only just beginning to learn which creatures can cope in extreme environments, and how they do it.

Article based on 8 expert answers to this question: Are tardigrades the most indestructible animal on Earth?

This expert response was published in partnership with independent fact-checking platform Subscribe to their weekly newsletter here.

Flex Alert issued as California expects severe heat over Labor Day weekend

Infinite Scroll Enabled
California will roast in dangerous heat through the Labor Day weekend, forecasters said Thursday, and options for cooling off may be limited by coronavirus concerns at beaches and calls for energy conservation that could limit use of air conditioning at home.

The withering hot, dry air also could create conditions ripe for more wildfires, even as blazes ignited by a lightning blitz in August continue to burn and foul the air with smoke, authorities said.


A strong ridge of high pressure building over the western U.S. is expected to send temperatures climbing Friday in Southern California and then spread the heat northward, peaking on Sunday or Monday, the National Weather Service said.

Many temperature records are likely to fall and there is a chance that some all-time record highs will be recorded, the Los Angeles region weather office said.

“These extreme max temps, combined with lows in the mid-70s to lower 80s will make Sunday one of the most hazardous in recent memory,” the office said.

With temperatures predicted to be 10 to 20 degrees above normal in California and high heat elsewhere in the West potentially limiting the availability of power to import, the manager of the state electrical grid issued a Flex Alert calling for voluntary conservation Saturday through Monday between the hours of 3 p.m. and 9 p.m.

The California Independent System Operator also ordered power generators to postpone routine maintenance and restore any out-of-service transmission lines Saturday through Monday. Cal ISO also noted that high overnight temperatures don’t allow electrical infrastructure to cool down.

This content is imported from Twitter. You may be able to find the same content in another format, or you may be able to find more information, at their web site.

The power concern follows a mid-August heat wave that strained the grid to the point where the Cal ISO ordered utilities to implement brief rolling blackouts for the first time since 2001. Officials said customers’ conservation significantly helped.

“It was an important factor indeed,” said Operations Vice President Eric Schmitt. “We’re asking for that kind of support again as we go into this weekend.”

Authorities, meanwhile, hoped to prevent a surge in COVID-19 infections that could occur if people engage in traditional Labor Day weekend activities.

Los Angeles County, the nation’s most populous, did not plan to close beaches but health authorities warned that could happen if they become too crowded, and masks will be required when people are out of the water.

Up the coast, Santa Barbara County planned to allow use of the water and active uses of the beach such as running or walking but no sunbathing. Monterey County said people could cross the sand to reach the water but otherwise barred use of beaches.

Such measures were not in place on the entire coast. Surfing mecca Huntington Beach, for example, was keeping its famous shoreline fully open.

The brewing heat wave was also expected to bring another challenge to thousands of firefighters who have been making progress on numerous wildfires, including massive complexes of multiple fires ignited by lightning last month.

“Firefighters are closely monitoring weather conditions, as extreme heat is expected over the weekend,” the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said in a statement.

The fires have destroyed more than 3,200 structures, including homes, and there have been eight deaths. More than 12,400 people remained evacuated Thursday.

East Antarctic Melting Hotspot Identified by Japanese Expedition – Ice Melting at Surprisingly Fast Rate

Japanese Icebreaker Ship Shirase

The Japanese icebreaker ship Shirase near the tip of the Shirase Glacier during the 58th Japanese Antarctic Research Expedition. Credit: Kazuya Ono

Ice is melting at a surprisingly fast rate underneath Shirase Glacier Tongue in East Antarctica due to the continuing influx of warm seawater into the Lützow-Holm Bay.

Hokkaido University scientists have identified an atypical hotspot of sub-glacier melting in East Antarctica. Their findings, published in the journal Nature Communications, could further understandings and predictions of sea level rise caused by mass loss of ice sheets from the southernmost continent.

The 58th Japanese Antarctic Research Expedition had a very rare opportunity to conduct ship-based observations near the tip of East Antarctic Shirase Glacier when large areas of heavy sea ice broke up, giving them access to the frozen Lützow-Holm Bay into which the glacier protrudes.

“Our data suggests that the ice directly beneath the Shirase Glacier Tongue is melting at a rate of 7–16 meters per year,” says Assistant Professor Daisuke Hirano of Hokkaido University’s Institute of Low Temperature Science. “This is equal to or perhaps even surpasses the melting rate underneath the Totten Ice Shelf, which was thought to be experiencing the highest melting rate in East Antarctica, at a rate of 10–11 meters per year.”

Factors Influencing Melting of Shirase Glacier

Warm water flows into Luetzow-Holm Bay along a deep underwater ocean trough and then flows upwards along the tongue’s base, warming and melting the base of Shirase Glacier Tongue. Credit: Daisuke Hirano et al., Nature Communications, August 24, 2020

The Antarctic ice sheet, most of which is in East Antarctica, is Earth’s largest freshwater reservoir. If it all melts, it could lead to a 60-meter rise in global sea levels. Current predictions estimate global sea levels will rise one meter by 2100 and more than 15 meters by 2500. Thus, it is very important for scientists to have a clear understanding of how Antarctic continental ice is melting, and to more accurately predict sea level fluctuations.

Lunch on Shirase Glacier Tongue

Daisuke Hirano (center) with a helicopter pilot (left) and a field assistant (right) having lunch on the floating Shirase Glacier Tongue. Credit: Yuichi Aoyama

Most studies of ocean–ice interaction have been conducted on the ice shelves in West Antarctica. Ice shelves in East Antarctica have received much less attention, because it has been thought that the water cavities underneath most of them are cold, protecting them from melting.

During the research expedition, Daisuke Hirano and collaborators collected data on water temperature, salinity, and oxygen levels from 31 points in the area between January and February 2017. They combined this information with data on the area’s currents and wind, ice radar measurements, and computer modeling to understand ocean circulation underneath the Shirase Glacier Tongue at the glacier’s inland base.

The scientists’ data suggests the melting is occurring as a result of deep, warm water flowing inwards towards the base of the Shirase Glacier Tongue. The warm water moves along a deep underwater ocean trough and then flows upwards along the tongue’s base, warming and melting the ice. The warm waters carrying the melted ice then flow outwards, mixing with the glacial meltwater.

The team found this melting occurs year-round, but is affected by easterly, alongshore winds that vary seasonally. When the winds diminish in the summer, the influx of the deep warm water increases, speeding up the melting rate.

“We plan to incorporate this and future data into our computer models, which will help us develop more accurate predictions of sea level fluctuations and climate change,” says Daisuke Hirano.

Reference: “Strong ice-ocean interaction beneath Shirase Glacier Tongue in East Antarctica” by Daisuke Hirano, Takeshi Tamura, Kazuya Kusahara, Kay I. Ohshima, Keith W. Nicholls, Shuki Ushio, Daisuke Simizu, Kazuya Ono, Masakazu Fujii, Yoshifumi Nogi and Shigeru Aoki, 24 August 2020, Nature Communications.
DOI: 10.1038/s41467-020-17527-4

This study was supported by Grants-in-Aids for Scientific Research of the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT; JP17K12811, JP17H01615, JP25241001, JP17H01157, JP17H06316, JP17H06317, JP17H06322, JP17H06323, JP17H04710, JP26740007, JP19K12301, and JP20K12132).

Antarctica: 60% of ice shelves at risk of fracture, research suggests

Collapse of shelves would accelerate loss of Antarctic ice sheet and increase sea-level rise

Fracture at the front of Ross ice shelf, the largest in Antarctica. A platform of ice nearly four times the size of the UK is at risk of collapse.
 Fracture at the front of Ross ice shelf, the largest in Antarctica. A platform of ice nearly four times the size of the UK is at risk of collapse. Photograph: Martin Wearing/PA

Approximately 60% of Antarctica’s ice shelves could be vulnerable to fracture, accelerating the loss of the Antarctic ice sheet and increasing sea-level rise, according to a paper.

Antarctica’s ice shelves, floating extensions of the ice sheet, help slow the flow of ice into the ocean. But if these shelves fracture and then collapse, the flow of melting glaciers into the oceans accelerates.

A study published in the journal Nature has mapped areas where ice shelves hold back upstream ice and are susceptible to “hydrofracture”, where meltwater flows into crevasses and fissures in the ice and enlarges them, potentially triggering the collapse of the ice shelf.

This process could accelerate the loss of Antarctic ice more than some climatic models predict as atmospheric warming increases. The study follows scientists’ recent announcement that Earth has lost 28tn tonnes of ice from its surface since 1994.

Most climatic models do not include the impact of hydrofracturing in their calculations, although one 2016 paper did account for them in a simpler way than the new study.

Hydrofracturing can only occur if the surface of an ice shelf is inundated with meltwater. Large pools of meltwater have existed in many areas of Antarctica for decades without causing the collapse of an ice shelf because the flow of water into surface fissures is slow or refreezes.

A tributary ice stream flowing from the Transantarctic mountains into the Ross ice shelf.
 A tributary ice stream flowing from the Transantarctic mountains into the Ross ice shelf. Photograph: Martin Wearing/PA

While some areas are not susceptible to fracture, Ching-Yao Lai of the Earth Institute at Columbia University and colleagues identified that 60% of the Antarctic ice shelf was both slowing the flow of ice into the ocean and also vulnerable to fracture.

While fractures in the ice are visible in satellite imagery, manual mapping is impractical because of the extent of the ice. So Lai and colleagues used machine learning to identify fracture-like features in satellite pictures of Antarctica, before modelling which fractures were vulnerable to hydrofracturing.

They developed a model to predict where fractures could form and found close agreement with the fractures mapped by their machine learning algorithm.

Lai said: “We predicted that the ice-shelves areas that can collapse due to hydrofracture are mostly the crucial part of ice shelves that hold back the upstream flow of ice sheets. Thus the loss of these ice-shelf areas due to hydrofracture can substantially affect the flow of ice sheets into the ocean.

“But predicting how much and how fast the loss of Antarctic ice and sea-level rise will occur due to the hydrofracturing process will require coupling our new fracture model with an ice-sheet and climate model, which is an important next step.”

The researchers hope their fracture model can help create more accurate models of the fate of the ice sheets, which together with climatic modelling will produce more accurate predictions of sea-level rise, which scientists believe could exceed one metre by the century’s end.

The researchers warned that while many areas of Antarctic meltwater were not currently likely to cause the hydrofracture of the ice beneath, with global heating these areas could become newly at risk in the future.

“Increased meltwater ponding in resilient locations will not lead to widespread hydrofracturing according to our analysis,” the authors wrote. “However, predictions of future melt suggest that melt rates seen in locations that experience meltwater ponding today could become widespread by 2100 under high-emissions scenarios.”

Tesla owner caught and charged for animal cruelty, EV community up in arms


There are lines that must never be crossed. For the Tesla community, one such line was crossed recently, after a video was shared on Twitter showing a fellow Tesla owner abandoning a yellow labrador at Orchards Park in Vancouver, WA. The clip was quite shocking, as it showed the dog’s owner seemingly tricking the pooch before coldly leaving it behind.

The incident spread across the Tesla community over the weekend, and it did not take long before numerous netizens were calling for the dog’s owner to be reprimanded. KATU News reporter Kellee Azar took to Twitter to voice her frustration at the incident as well, stating that “no dog, animal or person should be treated this way.”

Fortunately, the incident was recorded by a neighboring resident’s surveillance camera. Amidst the video’s spread on social media, an investigation was promptly started and handled by the Clark County Animal Protection and Control, and it was not long before the abandoned pooch was found. In a later social media post, animal shelter “I Paw’d it Forward” noted that the yellow lab was safe.

That being said, “I Paw’d it Forward” has explained in an update on its official Facebook page that the yellow labrador involved in the incident, 13-year-old Henry the Dog, won’t be up for adoption until the investigation was completed. The announcement was done after numerous people volunteered to take him in. In this light, at least, Henry seems to be heading to a loving home in the near future.

As of the Tesla owner who abandoned Henry, she has been identified and cited for animal cruelty. The update was related by Clark County Animal Protection and Control on Saturday. In a statement to KOIN 6 News, a program manager from the organization stated that animal control officers were able to identify the woman in the video, and that she was interviewed the same afternoon. While authorities did not reveal the name of Henry’s owner, they opted not to disclose her name to the public.

Part of the Tesla community’s outrage on the incident is partly due to the fact that Teslas themselves are actually one of the most pet-friendly vehicles available today. This is evident in the company’s efforts to make its electric cars as safe for pets as possible. A good example of this is represented by Dog Mode, which allows owners to maintain their vehicles’ cabin temperature even when they are not around.

Scientists Attribute Record-Shattering Siberian Heat and Wildfires to Climate Change

A decade of brutal Arctic heat waves increased emissions from fires and permafrost, melted heat-reflecting sea ice and pushed the High North climate toward collapse.


JUL 15, 2020

A view of a forest fire in central Yakutia from a helicopter. Credit: Yevgeny Sofroneyev\TASS via Getty Images

Siberia’s scorching, 100-degree temperature record made headlines in late June, but it was just the latest spike in a decade of historic heat waves across the Arctic that also set records for wildfires, thawing permafrost and melting sea ice. Such extremes, scientists said, show that Arctic warming is accelerating to outpace all but the most dire climate projections.

Intensifying warming in the Arctic trickles down to the rest of the world, melting Greenland’s ice to raise sea levels and flood coastal communities. It also shifts the paths of storms to intensify droughts, heat waves and flooding in more populated lower latitudes.

Sign up for InsideClimate News Weekly

Our stories. Your inbox. Every weekend.

I agree to InsideClimate News’ Terms of Service and Privacy Policy


Siberia’s overall temperatures were more than 9 degrees Fahrenheit above average from January to June. The prolonged heat wave would have been impossible in a climate that had not been warmed by human greenhouse gas emissions, according to research released Wednesday by World Weather Attribution, a team of scientists that studies how warming influences the intensity and frequency of meteorological extremes.

At the current level of warming, about 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit above the pre-industrial era, such a heat wave could be expected once every 130 years, but if emissions aren’t cut, they could be commonplace by the end of the century, the scientists concluded in their study, which hasn’t been peer reviewed yet.

Lead author Andrew Ciavarella, of the United Kingdom’s national weather service, said the findings, which showed that the changing climate increased the chances of the prolonged Siberian heat by at least 600 times, are staggering. Global warming not only increased the likelihood of the six-month Siberian heat wave, but also increased its temperatures “by at least 2, and probably 3 degrees Celsius (3.6 to 5.4 degrees Fahrenheit),” he said.

A containment boom deployes during a major cleanup operation following a fuel spill at combined heat and power plant in Siberia. Credit: Kirill Kukhmar\TASS via Getty Images

Regional impacts of the heat wave included large swarms of silk moths that, along with the soaring temperatures, made forests more fire-prone, said co-author Olga Zolina, with the Shirshov Institute of Oceanology. The heat wave also melted permafrost, which caused roads to crumble and a storage tank to collapse, spilling 21,000 tons of oil into a river.

“The heat wave is not only important because of people,” she said. “The Arctic is important for forming weather and circulation. The high temperatures are really important for the whole globe.”

Siberian Temperatures Climbed Off the Charts—Again

Persistent wind patterns contributed to the unusually warm winter and spring over western Siberia and the extreme early summer heat over the Arctic portion of the Russian province. That fits with recent research showing that the jet stream, which carries weather systems from west to east, is looping farther north and south more frequently, and even getting stuck in those areas, said Susan Conard, a climate researcher at George Mason University and the editor of the International Journal of Wildland Fire.

Those atmospheric patterns are changing and intensifying Rossby Waves—slow-moving ripples in oceans and air circling the globe that form as a result of the rotation of the Earth and affect the planet’s weather. “Over time, it seems quite apparent that these atmospheric patterns that change and intensify the Rossby waves have changed,” she said.

Other studies have shown that changes in the jet stream and Rossby Waves have contributed to extreme ice melt in Greenland, as well as to floods, heat waves and droughts in more temperate regions of the planet.

“When you have an ‘upward’ loop in the jet stream, the air masses are drawn up inside the loop,” said Conard, who spent years studying Siberian forests. “In most of the U.S., that brings moist air from the Gulf of Mexico. In Asia and Eastern Europe, however, the result is warm, dry air coming across desert areas, or further east across tall mountains that dry the air.”

In addition to its warmth, the last winter in Siberia was so dry that, by June, soil moisture was at a record low. That’s another factor heating the region, because if soil is moist, incoming heat energy dissipates through evaporation. If it’s dry, the ground absorbs the heat energy and warms the air above it, said Felix Pithan, a scientist with the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impacts Research.

The warm and dry conditions continued from winter through early summer, priming the forests and tundra for wildfires that, in just two months, emitted about 60 million tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, more than the annual emissions of mid-size countries like Hungary and Portugal. In the last two years, Siberian fires emitted more carbon dioxide than all the fires in the region during the previous 16 years, according to Thomas Smith, a climate researcher and geographer with the London School of Economics.

Along with direct greenhouse gas emissions, the heat and fires are speeding the thaw of permafrost in some areas, and the warmth over Siberia has accelerated the summer melting of sea ice to a record pace in the adjacent Arctic Ocean. Last year, parts of Alaska experienced similar extreme conditions, and the year before that, northern Scandinavia was blistered by extreme heat and fires.

The effects of this year’s persistent Siberian warmth are likely to last so long that it may be misleading to call it a heat wave, said Anders Levermann at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impacts Research.

“The idea of a heat wave is that, at some point, it ends and that you’re going back to normal,” the researcher said. “But if, for example, you thaw the permafrost, you are not going back to normal. You leave a scar, in a sense.”

Levermann said the rapid dwindling of sea ice is another strong sign the entire Arctic system is collapsing. When all the sea ice is all gone in 20 years or so, the Arctic will be in a quantitatively different state. That is likely to affect the climate across large swaths of the Northern Hemisphere, including the mid-latitudes where most people in North America and Eurasia live.

Lingering Heat Impacts in Alaska

Exactly a year ago, Alaska was enduring a heat wave as dramatic as this year’s in Siberia. University of Alaska, Fairbanks climate scientist Rick Thoman said he was astonished when Anchorage broke it’s all-time high temperature by 5 degrees Fahrenheit, reaching 90 degrees on July 4 during a heat wave that re-wrote the record books in many Alaskan communities.

And just like Siberia, the Alaskan summer heatwave followed an exceptionally warm winter and spring. In early February 2019, archaeologist Anne Jensen tweeted about the unusual conditions in the northernmost town in the United States: “It’s February, the coldest month of the year.  We have open water in front of Utqiagvik.  It is 30 F out at 11:20 at night. Strange days indeed.” Just two years earlier the average temperature there changed so fast that the weather station’s official instruments and computer programs couldn’t keep pace.

In spring and early summer of 2019 the intensifying heat over Alaska accelerated the meltdown of bright, reflective sea ice along the Alaska coast, enabling the ocean to soak up heat, which, in turn, magnified warmth over Alaskan coastal areas and spread inland to drive record heat and wildfires across the state.

The year before that, extreme heat and wildfires spread across the Scandinavian Arctic, following two years with repeated heat waves over the Central Arctic. The timeline of extremes includes a 2012 heat wave that triggered unprecedented melting across most of the Greenland Ice Sheet. Overall, Alaska and the Arctic have warmed more since 1990 than in the previous 90 years. This year’s Siberian heat is another dramatic spike in that trend.

“The really outstanding thing in Siberia is that they have been exceptionally warm for months,” Thoman said. “The fact they’ve been running 5 to 10 degrees Celsius (9 to 18 degrees Fahrenheit) above normal for most of this year, are anomalies for that kind of time span that are mind-boggling.”

But as shocking as they are, the annual heat waves hopscotching through the Arctic shouldn’t be surprising, Thoman said.

“This is all exactly what you expect,” he said “With the trend of global warming, someplace is going to be really, really extreme nearly every year.”

Thoman said that many areas have crossed thresholds leading to abrupt change. Given the amount of heat going into the ocean, it’s not physically reasonable to expect the system to go back to how it was, he said.

The 2019 Alaska heat wave contributed to “unprecedented multi-species deaths,” reported from western Alaskan coastal communities, he said, but aside from the growing wildfire threat, his biggest concern is its impact on Alaska indigenous cultures.

“Communities are resilient, but changes are happening so fast, on top of the other problems, it’s stretching the capacity to adapt to the limit,” he said, noting that the lack of relocation plans for imminently threatened communities like Shishmaref or Kivalina was an  “Alaska-specific failure”.

The effects of Alaska’s record-warm summer persisted through subsequent seasons, particularly with regard to sea ice.

“We had a cold winter …  and yet, overall, Bering Sea ice extent was near record low much of the winter,” he said. “This year, we saw the greatest March ice loss of record, a direct result of the heat of last summer. The waters were so warm it took a long time to work that warmth off, so the ice that did form was shallow.”

At this point, the warming in the Arctic is so strong that “it’s swamping all other climate signals” like natural ocean warming and cooling cycles.

A Vicious Circle of Melting Permafrost and Global Warming

For climatologists, one of the biggest concerns about persistent Arctic warming is the threat to permafrost, a deep layer of frozen ground that releases vast amounts of heat-trapping carbon dioxide when it thaws.

The melting has already advanced to the point that, even during colder winters, such as the last one in Alaska, the permafrost won’t refreeze, said Vladimir Romanovsky, a permafrost expert at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks. Every year, a little more thaws.

“It’s a very tedious process, thawing about 5-10 centimeters (2 to 4 inches) per year, but it’s a completely new situation compared to 15 years ago,” he said.

The thawing also enables water to drain from the surface of the permafrost, leaving it drier and more easy to ignite with wildfires, he said. And global warming also increases the source of ignitions as the moisture and heat it adds to the atmosphere brings more thunderstorms, he added.

Emissions from the burning forests and melting permafrost are feeding an increasingly vicious circle of warming.

“We are going to see more fires and more severe fires,” he said. “They will cover more areas and burn more deeply into the organic layer, and this will trigger more thawing of permafrost.”

“The thawing will accelerate significantly,” he said. In a few decades, permafrost “could be thawing at the rate of 1.6 feet per year, spreading across much of the Alaskan interior. That will be a massive change in the environment.”

Romanovsky also monitors permafrost on remote Nunavut Territory islands in the Canadian Arctic. The changes there, he said, are even more unexpected than in Alaska and Siberia, and show how warming is intensifying and spreading across the entire Arctic.

There, on some of the most northward land of the planet, maximum summer temperatures since 2006 have increased from just a few degrees above freezing to 50 degrees Fahrenheit. As a result, the summer permafrost thaw has increased from about six-inches deep to between 15 and 23 inches—”enough to thaw massive ice layers and physically change the landscape,” said Romanovsky, who in that time has seen flat, unvegetated land fill with troughs and plants.

Arctic Warming Scars Scandinavia With Sinkholes, Landslides

In Scandinavia, the extreme heat of recent summers has penetrated even deeper into the frozen ground. At a research site at Janssonhaugen, at 78 degrees north in the Svalbard archipelago north of Norway, permafrost 130 feet deep has warmed by nearly a full degree Fahrenheit since 1998.

But extreme summer warmth has been linked to even more rapid collapse of ice-rich permafrost, said Ketil Isaksen, a senior scientist with the Norwegian Meteorological Institute.

Such abrupt thaws “can be triggered by a single weather extreme, like this year’s warm spring and summer in Siberia,” he said.

The combined effects of warm air temperatures, fires and water spreading through the ground can “thaw through meters of permafrost within a short time—much more rapidly than would be caused by increasing air temperature alone,” Isaksen said.

In the Nordic Arctic, rapid thaw brings huge landslides and sinkholes, he added. About 20 percent of the northern permafrost region appears to be vulnerable to such abrupt thaw, according to the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Isaksen said the 2018 heat wave in Scandinavia was most noteworthy not for its impacts on permafrost, but because it fueled widespread, intense and persistent drought.

“The drought started early, in May,” he said. “When the rainfall came in August, it was too late to save the crops. In Norway, almost 200 million euros were paid in compensation for the crop failure in 2018.”

The extreme heat and drought also increased electricity prices, closed power plants for lack of cooling water, emptied reservoirs and led to water restrictions in many communities, he said. They also spurred “the most extreme forest fire period in Sweden and Norway in modern history.”

Arctic warming kicked into high gear in Scandinavia about 15 to 20 years ago, said Lars Holger Pilö, an archaeologist who scours melting snow fields and ice patches for remnants of ancient civilizations.

In addition to bringing floods, landslides and wildfires, the heat is also affecting wildlife, he said. Reindeer, for example, seek out snow and ice patches to avoid biting bugs during the summer. As those refuges melt away, they move around more and eat less, which reduces the weight of calves, leaving them less likely to survive the following winter. The reindeer are also affected by winter melts, which, when they refreeze, form ice caps over the animals’ forage, making it harder for them to find any food at all, he said.

The current pace of warming in the Arctic has generally been underestimated by climate models, said Xavier Fettweis, a University of Liége climate researcher who focuses on polar regions. Only the models showing the highest levels of warming of the climate by greenhouse gases match the current rate of warming, he said.

As if to underscore that point, Fettweis recently posted on Twitter that new record high temperatures may have been recorded near the North Pole on July 5 and July 6. If the current trend in greenhouse gas emissions continues, the Arctic could heat up by as much as 29 degrees Fahrenheit by 2100, according to new climate models, he said.

Penn State climate scientist Michael Mann said the heat wave in Siberia is “consistent overall with a slower, wavier jet stream, leading to more persistent weather extremes.” Several recent studies have shown how global warming can cause those jet stream changes, he said.

He also noted that weather extremes in the High North have exceeded most climate models’ projections because those computer simulations are based on broad climate averages over wide areas. They also can’t account very well for the impacts of vicious cycles of warming like those involving permafrost and wildfires.

“This is indeed part of a larger pattern of record weather extremes in recent years that undoubtedly are exacerbated by human-caused climate change,” he said.

Siberian heat wave is driving massive wildfires, sea ice melt in Arctic

  • The World Meteorological Organization warned that temperatures in Siberia were about 18 degrees F above average in June as devastating fires rage across the Arctic and ice melts off the Arctic coast.
  • The Siberian heat wave and record heat in the Arctic would be virtually impossible without human-caused climate change. A Siberian town reached a record 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit in June.
  • “What happens in the Arctic does not stay in the Arctic,” WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas said.
A woman near the ruins of a summer house destroyed by a fire in a dacha community in Moshkovo District, Novosibirsk Region, south Siberia. Novosibirsk Region is experiencing hundreds of fires believed to have been caused by burning old grass.
A woman near the ruins of a summer house destroyed by a fire in a dacha community in Moshkovo District, Novosibirsk Region, south Siberia. Novosibirsk Region is experiencing hundreds of fires believed to have been caused by burning old grass.
Kirill Kukhmar | TASS | Getty Images

The World Meteorological Organization warned on Friday that temperatures in Siberia were about 18 degrees [10 degrees Celsius] above average in June as devastating fires rage in the Arctic and ice melts off the Arctic coast.

“The Arctic is heating more than twice as fast as the global average, impacting local populations and ecosystems and with global repercussions,” WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas said in a statement.

The Siberian heat wave and record heat in the Arctic would be virtually impossible without human-caused climate change, according to a recent study by the World Weather Attribution project.

The WMO also said the heat wave is due in part to a blocking pressure system and a northward swing of the jet stream that is sending hot air into the region.

Temperatures in the Siberian town Verkhoyansk reached a record 100.4 degrees [38 degrees Celsius] in June. The Arctic has experienced its highest annual temperatures from 2016 to 2019, with 2020 expected to be even hotter.

“What happens in the Arctic does not stay in the Arctic. Because of teleconnections, the poles influence weather and climate conditions in lower latitudes where hundreds of millions of people live,” Taalas said.

Read more:
More efficient cooling systems could save $2.9 trillion by 2050 and help curb climate change
‘Oven-like conditions’: Scorching heat and coronavirus endanger people without AC this summer
Earth has hottest May on record, with 2020 on track to be one of the top 10 warmest years

The Arctic wildfires ignited unusually early this year due to hot and dry conditions in Siberia. In June, they released more polluting gases into the environment than any other fires in nearly two decades of data collection.

The blazes have devastated local ecosystems and habitats and released planet-warming carbon dioxide and soot.

The fires have also thawed permafrost containing methane and carbon dioxide. Scientists warn that the melting permafrost could release as much as 240 billion tons of carbon into the atmosphere by 2100.

It’s virtually certain that 2020 will be among the hottest years ever, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Last year was the second-hottest year ever, which capped off the hottest decade on record as global warming accelerates.

Russia declares state of emergency after massive oil spill in Arctic Circle

After 40 years, researchers finally see Earth’s climate destiny more clearly

Science July 22, 2020
1st 3 paragraphs

It seems like such a simple question: How hot is Earth going to get? Yet for 40 years, climate scientists have repeated the same unsatisfying answer: If humans double atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) from preindustrial levels, the planet will eventually warm between 1.5°C and 4.5°C—a temperature range that encompasses everything from a merely troubling rise to a catastrophic one.

Now, in a landmark effort, a team of 25 scientists has significantly narrowed the bounds on this critical factor, known as climate sensitivity. The assessment, conducted under the World Climate Research Programme (WCRP) and publishing this week in Reviews of Geophysics, relies on three strands of evidence: trends indicated by contemporary warming, the latest understanding of the feedback effects that can slow or accelerate climate change, and lessons from ancient climates. They support a likely warming range of between 2.6°C and 3.9°C, says Steven Sherwood, one of the study’s lead authors and a climate scientist at the University of New South Wales. “This is the number that really controls how bad global warming is going to be.”

The new study is the payoff of decades of advances in climate science, says James Hansen, the famed retired NASA climate scientist who helped craft the first sensitivity range in 1979. “It is an impressive, comprehensive study, and I am not just saying that because I agree with the result. Whoever shepherded this deserves our gratitude.”

Full article w/technical details here:


Siberia’s Heat Wave Triggered an Arctic Sea Ice Melt

A heat wave brought tropical temperatures and fires to Arctic Siberia last month. Now, it’s causing sea ice to crater.
July 21, 2020, 6:51am
Siberia’s Heat Wave Triggered an Arctic Sea Ice Melt Down

For the past month, Siberia has captured the world’s attention thanks to a climate change-fueled heat wave that caused temperatures in an Arctic town to crack 100 degrees in June and whipped up an outbreak of fires across normally frigid tundra. But an equally alarming situation is unfolding just north of Siberia’s shores: sea ice is crashing in a region that scientists consider to be the ice factory of the Arctic.

In fact, there’s so little ice cover in the Laptev Sea north of Siberia—as well as the Barents Sea to the west—that ice cover across the entire Arctic Ocean is currently at its lowest mid-July extent on record. If sea ice continues to plummet, it could bottom out at a new record low in September. Even if 2020 doesn’t set a dubious new record, the ongoing ice annihilation is yet another sign that the Arctic is undergoing unprecedented changes as it heats up at more than twice the globally averaged rate.

“We’re kind of in the middle this year of this grand experiment,” said Mark Serreze, the director of the National Snow and Ice Data Center. That experiment, he explained, consists of a mix of regional and global factors fueling remarkable ice losses.

One of those factors traces back to the winter. In February, the polar vortex, a belt of upper atmosphere winds that encircles the Arctic, approached record strength. This altered airflow at Earth’s surface and triggered a record positive phase of an air pressure pattern known Arctic Oscillation (AO). When the AO is positive, strong winds blow northward off the Siberian coast, pushing ice into the central Arctic Ocean.

“These winds move old ice away from the coast and create regions of very thin ice near the coast,” Andrea Lang, an associate professor of atmospheric sciences at the University of Albany, told Motherboard in an email. “Very thin ice melts and gives way to open ocean earlier in the warm season than older multi-year ice.”

That’s especially true when there’s plenty of heat and sunlight available to melt the ice in the spring. For Siberia, there’s been no shortage of either: from January to June, temperatures across a vast swath of the region were running 9 degrees Fahrenheit above average, part of an extremely prolonged and intense heat spell that would have been “almost impossible” without climate change, according to a recent analysis by climate researchers with the World Weather Attribution project.

The heat reached its apex in mid-June, when a ridge of high pressure air sent temperatures soaring north of 100 degrees Fahrenheit in the Russian town of Verkhoyansk—a record for the entire Arctic region. It was around that time that Siberian sea ice, awash in both heat and sunlight associated with the same weather pattern, “really dropped off a cliff,” said Zack Labe, a climate scientist at Colorado State University.

Since then, the meltdown has accelerated. The high pressure ridge behind Siberia’s heat wave migrated north into the central Arctic Ocean, Labe says, causing temperatures to soar up to 18 degrees Fahrenheit above average. During the first half of July, warm weather and unrelenting sun (the far north is bathed in near round-the-clock light at this time of year) caused the Arctic to shed roughly 56,000 square miles of ice, an area larger than New York state, every day. The fires raging across Arctic Siberia might have played a role as well by depositing soot on sea ice, darkening it and allowing it to absorb more of the sun’s energy, Serreze said.

As of Monday, sea ice had all but vanished from Siberian waters, and Arctic-wide levels were on par with September annual minima in the 1990s.

The melt season is far from over, though, and it’s not clear whether ice will hit a new record low this September, a title currently held by 2012. If the Arctic moves into a cloudier, stormier, weather pattern, Labe says, melting “could easily slow down,” similar to how it did last August when cooler weather pumped the brakes on sea ice losses after the ice had veered into record territory earlier in the season. (2019 wound up effectively tying 2007 and 2016 for second-lowest sea ice extent on record.)

Then again, the most intense Arctic storms could shake things up in a different direction. Arctic cyclones, which are fueled by the temperature gradient between warm continents and cold Arctic ice, reach their peak in the central Arctic ocean in late summer. These storms can be potent destroyers of sea ice, particularly if that ice was already weakened by melting. Evidence suggests that 2012’s record minimum was partly thanks to a monster cyclone that spun up over Siberia that August.

Whether 2020 brings a new record for sea ice destruction or not, what’s happening this year will be significant. Most new sea ice formation in the Arctic occurs along the eastern half of Siberia’s north coast, where ice grows in the autumn and winter before being swept out to sea. Because there’s so much open water absorbing sunlight in the region right now, Serreze says it’s “very likely” that autumn ice formation will be delayed, which could have ripple effects going into next year.

Ultimately, more years like this could hasten Arctic sea ice’s long term, climate change driven meltdown, which matters far more than individual records.

“Everyone wants to focus on the minimum, but any amount of time the ice is at a record low is affecting arctic climate,” Labe said. “To me, that’s very significant.”

Arctic heat wave “essentially impossible” without human-caused climate change, study finds

Less than a month ago the world was shocked when the temperature in the Arctic Circle reached a record-breaking 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit. While remarkable in its own right, it was merely the exclamation point on an astonishing, prolonged and widespread heat event across all of the Siberian Arctic.

The extreme and unusual warmth in this region alarmed scientists worldwide, prompting a group of 14 scientists from six countries to collaborate in a study to figure how something this out-of-bounds could occur. On Wednesday, the researchers released their findings in a comprehensive climate attribution study, declaring, “This large-scale prolonged event would have been essentially impossible without climate change.”

To put it into perspective, the team found that if, hypothetically, you lived in this region before around 1900, when human-caused climate change began to emerge, a heat event this widespread, prolonged and intense would only occur once every 80,000 years — or about once every 1,000 lifetimes.

Firefighters work to extinguish forest fires near the village of Batagay, Sakha Republic, also called Yakutia, in Russia’s Siberia region. Freakishly warm weather and dry conditions across large swathes of Siberia have contributed to a resurgence of wildfires in the summer of 2020.RUSSIAN EMERGENCY MINISTRY/AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES

The study determined the likelihood of experiencing a regional heat event of this magnitude today, as compared to 1900, is 600 times greater. And even in today’s warmer climate, it would only be expected to happen once every 130 years.

“The findings of this rapid research — that climate change increased the chances of the prolonged heat in Siberia by at least 600 times — are truly staggering,” said Andrew Ciavarella, the lead author of the research and senior detection and attribution scientist at the U.K. Meteorological Office.

The study examined the role of human-induced climate change in the likelihood and intensity of two specific events: the persistent warmth across the Siberian region from January to June, and the record temperature of 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit set at Verkhoyansk, Siberia, on June 20.

Over the first six months of this year, temperatures across the great expanse of Siberia — an area larger than the entire United States — averaged 10 degrees Fahrenheit above normal. The image below shows the study area (outlined in the rectangular box) and above-average temperatures in the orange-red shading, using degrees Celsius.


To illustrate the unusual persistence of the warmth, the visual below, from Arctic climate expert Zack Labe, shows the departures from average temperatures over Siberia for each month from January to June. The darkest shade of red indicates temperatures of 15 degrees Fahrenheit above normal.

To investigate the climate abnormalities, the research team examined both observational surface temperature records and recreated the climate using dozens of climate computer models.

To measure the effect of climate change, the scientists ran computer simulations to compare the climate as it is today with the climate as it would have been in 1900, when there was much less in the way of heat-trapping greenhouse gases and pollution.

On the question of how likely the 100.4-degree record in the town of Verkhoyansk was to occur in June, the study found it to be around a 1-in-140-year event in our current warmed climate, and several thousand times more likely than it would have been early in the Industrial Revolution, before humans substantially warmed the planet.

On the question of how likely a regional heat event of this year’s magnitude is, the study found it to be a 1-in-130-year event in today’s warmed climate — 600 times more likely than it would have been in 1900.

The study also found that from 1900 to 2020, human impact on the climate made the regional heat event approximately 4 degrees Fahrenheit warmer. And it estimates that in the future, if a similar heat wave were to occur three decades from now, in 2050, the intensity could be around 10 degrees Fahrenheit warmer compared to 1900.

The results of the study were so dramatic that even one of its most experienced climate attribution authors, Dr Friederike Otto, deputy director of the Environmental Change Institute at the University of Oxford, was surprised.

“It is by far the strongest change in an individual event I have seen compared to everything else I’ve studied so far,” she said.

As a result of the remarkable heat and dryness, 8,000 square miles of Siberia have ignited in wildfires — significantly more fire coverage than last year up to this point. In June alone, these fires spewed 56 megatons of heat-trapping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere — more than the yearly emissions of Switzerland. This leads to a dangerous feedback loop in which the extra carbon in the atmosphere further warms the planet.

The extensive heating is also causing another feedback loop in the Arctic by melting sea ice at a prolific rate. Right now, sea ice extent adjacent to Siberia in the Laptev Sea  is not only in record decline, it has metaphorically fallen off a cliff.

Disappearing sea ice results in less sunlight being reflected from the light-colored ice back into space; instead, more heat is absorbed by the Earth’s exposed, darker surfaces. As a result, the Arctic is warming three times faster than the global average. This phenomenon is called Arctic Amplification.

These drastic changes drive home the degree to which humans have become a force of nature, warming the climate through the burning of fossil fuels that release heat-trapping greenhouse gases and driving extremes previously unimaginable in our history.

“We are now seeing events far outside of what our societies are adapted to,” said Otto. “Climate change is here now, it is not only a problem for someone else, somewhere else, but heat waves are threatening lives and livelihoods everywhere.”