A report led by scientists from the University of California in Irvine suggests that as the climate warms, lightning strikes will increase more than double, driving more wildfires and warming above the Arctic Circle. In 2019, the first-ever known lightning strike within 300 miles of the North Pole was reported by the National Weather Service, which is a rare case for Arctic Circle. However, in a new report published by the University of California, lightning strikes are likely to increase by 100 percent over the Arctic Circle by the end of the century as the climate continues to warm.
The new research has been published in the journal Nature Climate Change.
The study reveals how the Arctic’s weather would change as the planet continues to heat up, suggesting future weather reports from the Arctic could be similar to those coming from the south where lightning storms are a common phenomenon.
Yang Chena research scientist in the UCI Department of Earth System Science who led the study, told SciTechDaily they “projected how lightning in high-latitude boreal forests and Arctic tundra regions will change across North America and Eurasia.” The team was surprised by the “size of the lightning response” because the changes expected are usually much smaller.
James Randerson, a professor in UCT’s Department of Earth System Science, co-author of the study was part of a NASA-led field campaign to study wildfire occurrence in Alaska in 2015. The year saw multiple wildfires in the state. He told SciTechDaily thatlightning was responsible for the record-breaking number of fires in 2015.
Hence, Chen studied the last 20-year-old NASA satellite data on lightning strikes in the northern region to construct a relationship between the flash rate and climate factors and the team was able to estimate the significant increase in lightning strikes as a result of atmospheric conventions and more intense thunderstorms.
Randerson explained how fires would burn away short grasses, mosses and shrubs that keep the seeds of trees from taking root in the soil, hence when these fires burn low-lying plants, seeds from trees can easily grow on soil and forests might expand to the north. The snow-covered landscape will be replaced by evergreen forests and they absorb solar energy, helping warm the region even further.
In addition to this, more fires will melt more permafrost which protects moss and dead organic matter that keeps soil cool. As permafrost stores a lot of organic carbon, it will convert to greenhouse gases carbon dioxide and methane after being melted, hence, will increase warming.
Chen and Randerson warned the scientists to need to pay attention to how frequently Arctic lightning strikes so they can gauge how the story unfolds in the coming decades.