The Northernmost Settlement on Earth Hit 21 Degrees For the First Time This Week

By Brian Kahn on at

It’s not just your living room that's been roasting this week. Much of the planet is on a heat bender, including the northernmost inhabited place on Earth.

Alert, Canada (yes, that is it's name) cracked 21 degrees Celsius for the first time ever recorded this week. While it’s not the high thirties up to forties awaiting the U.S. and Europe, it’s in some ways even more astonishing. Alert is just a shade more than 500 miles from the North Pole, and the heat there is indicative of the changes afoot in the Arctic as the planet heats up.

“It’s really quite spectacular,” David Phillips, Environment Canada’s chief climatologist, said in a typical scientist understatement according to the Canada’s Global News. “This is unprecedented.”

While “spectacular” is one word to describe the heat, disturbing is the one I would choose. Alert is a small military base on an island in northern Canada. It’s a place known for ice, not beach weather. The average high temperature for July is around 6 degrees Celsius while lows usually bottom out around -25, according to Environment Canada data.

For those of us about to roast in the lower latitudes, 21 degrees Celsius sounds downright welcoming. But Phillips noted that the spike was equivalent to it climbing to about 41 degrees Celsius in Toronto. So yeah, like I said, it’s disturbing.

The Arctic is warming twice as fast as the rest of the globe thanks to humanity’s penchant for treating the atmosphere like a carbon waste dump. The rapid warming in the Arctic has led to a series of sudden shifts upending the region. Sea ice is disappearing, wildfires are becoming more common and fierce, and Greenland is melting out at an alarming rate.

This year is just the latest manifestation of that, with Anchorage cracking 90 degrees Fahrenheit for the first time ever and the Arctic Circle has turned into a ring of fire. Sea ice, meanwhile, is tracking the trajectory of the 2012 melt season when ice bottomed out at its lowest extent on record. The National Snow and Ice Data Centre (NSIDC) said in a blog post that the odds are “slim” for setting a new record in part because 2012's low was aided by a freak cyclone that smashed apart ice. But even without a record, the amount of ice loss is staggering and also in line with recent trends. The agency wrote that “most days during the first half of July had rates exceeding 100,000 square kilometres (38,600 square miles) per day, which is similar to what has been observed over the past several years”. In comparison, the 1981-2010 average for July was around 80,000 square kilometres (30,900 square miles) per day.

All those impacts are big issues for people who call the Arctic home, but the rest of us are also being forced to suffer the consequences. Alert’s new record is, well, an alert of the dangerous path we’re on.

Featured photo: Johannes Zieckle (Flickr)