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‘Warning Sign of Major Proportions’: Arctic Fires Grow by 500% in a Week as Heat Roasts Siberia

The wildfires have encroached on territory further north within the Arctic Circle than ever before in recorded history, raising alarm among scientists.

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(TMU) – The Russian government is scrambling to control forest fires in Siberia that have reportedly grown fivefold over the past week alone.

On Saturday, Russia’s forest fire aerial forest protection agency Avialesookhrana reported that some 2.85 million acres (1.15 million hectares) were actively burning in remote areas of Siberia inaccessible by firefighters, reports ABC.

The raging fires and accompanying historic heat wave in the Siberian region are a grim reminder that world climate conditions continue to rise in unpredictable and devastating ways.

Satellite images from space captured by the European Union’s Earth Observation Programme show that the wildfires have encroached on territory further north within the Arctic Circle than ever before, raising alarm among scientists.

In the pictures, the blaze can be seen ravaging the diamond-rich Yakutia region, also called the Sakha Republic, where 2.295 million acres or 929,000 hectares are burning.

“While fires are common at this time of year, record temperatures and strong winds are making the situation particularly worrying,” the European program added.

Last week, the Russian Arctic town of Verkhoyansk lying within the Sakha Republic reached a shocking temperature of 100.4°F (38°C), the hottest temperature ever recorded north of the Arctic circle. The town is known as being the coldest in the world, with last weekend’s record exceeding the normal temperature by 32 degrees.

“The Arctic is figuratively and literally on fire,” climate scientist and University of Michigan environmental school dean Jonathan Overpeck told ABC. “It’s warming much faster than we thought it would in response to rising levels of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, and this warming is leading to a rapid meltdown and increase in wildfires.”

“The record warming in Siberia is a warning sign of major proportions,” he added, noting that such prolonged warmth in the famously frigid region has been unseen for thousands of years.

“It is another sign that the Arctic amplifies global warming even more than we thought,” Overpeck said.

The inferno is located less than eight miles north of the devastating fires that raged last year.

Even Russian President Vladimir Putin has expressed shock over the changing conditions and has ordered authorities to establish a new program to monitor the climate and consequences of changing climatic conditions.

Authorities fear that as temperatures increase in the Arctic region, prolonged wildfires could become the norm – and could grow more fearsome with each passing year.

The fires also pose the danger of thawing frozen ground, or permafrost, in the region. The melting of Siberian permafrost would cause great structural damage to buildings in the region and destroy fuel storage and pipeline facilities, leading to spreading pollution in the region.

The nightmare scenario Arctic energy facilities bursting open and contaminating sensitive ecological zones occurred last month after thawing permafrost caused a facility belonging to Russian mining giant Norilsk Nickel spilled 21,000 tons of diesel fuel into an Arctic river, causing the Russian president to declare a state of emergency.

Every hot Arctic summer would also lead to further thawing, warping roads, damaging critical infrastructure, eroding riverbanks, and flooding pastures.

“We should organize a total monitoring of both industrial and housing buildings on the permafrost,” said Russian Academy of Sciences President Alexander Sergeyev, according to MailOnline. “If the permafrost degrades, all those buildings will begin to slide. This task is of the highest importance.”

Residents and local authorities are also frightened by the proliferation of mosquito swarms amid the Saudi-like weather, reports New York Times.

The thawing permafrost would also have a global impact as it unleashes greenhouse gases from decomposed organic materials into the air that had previously been frozen since time immemorial. Scientists have warned that as much as 240 billion tons of carbon could be released by 2100, adding dangerous momentum to the ongoing process of climate change.

“Nature is taking its revenge on us, probably,” Russkoye Ustye village leader Sergei Portnyagin told the Times. “We’ve been too bloody in how we’ve treated it.”

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Animals

Scientists Thrilled by Discovery of Rare, Mammoth 400-Year-Old Coral

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A massive 400-year-old hard coral discovered on the Great Barrier Reef has scientists expressing their sense of surprise and excitement.

Named Muga dambhi by the Manbarra people, the Indigenous group who have traditionally taken care of the land, the “exceptionally large” brown and cream-colored coral is located off the coast of Goolboodi or Orpheus Island in the Great Barrier Reef.

It is believed that the coral was spawned some 421 to 438 years ago, meaning that its age predates the arrival of Captain James Cook and the advent of colonization in Australia, notes the Guardian.

The spectacular coral is about 35 feet wide and over 17 feet high, and is double the size of the nearest coral.

Scientists and members of the community participating in a marine science course discovered the specimen earlier this year.

While not the largest coral in the world, the huge find is of major significance to the local ecosystem, according to Adam Smith, an adjunct professor at James Cook University who wrote the field note on the find.

“It’s like a block of apartments,” Smith said. “It attracts other species. There’s other corals, there’s fish, there’s other animals around that use it for shelter or for feeding, so it’s pretty important for them.”

“It’s a bit like finding a giant redwood tree in the middle of a botanic gardens,” he added.

It is likely that the coral hasn’t been discovered for such a long time due to its location in a relatively remote and unvisited portion of a Marine National Park zone that enjoys a high degree of protection.

“Over the last 20 or 30 years, no one has noticed, or observed, or thought it newsworthy enough to share photos, or document, or do research on this giant coral,” Smith said.

The coral is in remarkable condition, with over 70 percent of its surface covered in live coral, coral rock and microalgae. No disease, bleaching or recently deceased coral has been recorded on the specimen.

“The cumulative impact of almost 100 bleaching events and up to 80 major cyclones over a period of four centuries, plus declining nearshore water quality contextualise the high resilience of this Porites coral,” the field note added.

The specific coral has been given the name Muga dhambi, meaning big coral, out of respect for the Indigenous knowledge, language, and culture of the Manbarra Traditional Owners.

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Environment

Greenland Ice Washed Away as Summit Sees Rain for First Time in Recorded History

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For the first time in recorded history, torrential downpours of rain have struck Greenland’s icy summit nearly two miles above sea level.

Greenland, an environmentally sensitive island, is typically known for its majestic ice sheet and snowy climate, but this is fast changing due to a massive melt taking place this summer.

However, the typical snowfall has been replaced in recent years not simply by a few showers, but by heavy rainfall. The torrential downpour last week was so huge, in fact, that it washed away a terrifying amount of ice across some 337,000 square miles of the ice shelf’s surface, reports Earther.

Temperatures at the ice shelf had simultaneously warmed to a significant degree, with the summit reaching 33 degrees Fahrenheit – within a degree above freezing and the third time that the shelf has surpassed freezing temperatures this decade.

The fact that rain is falling on ice rather than snow is also significant because it is melting ice across much of southern Greenland, which already saw huge melting events last month, while hastening rising sea levels that threaten to submerge whole coastal cities and communities.

To make matters worse, any new ice formed by the freezing rainwater will not last long. The ice shelf currently existing on Greenland was formed by the compression of snow over innumerable years, which shines bright white and reflects sunlight away rather than absorbing it, as ice from frozen rain does.

The huge scale of the melt and accompanying rainfall illustrate the growing peril of rapidly warming climate conditions across the globe.

“This event by itself does not have a huge impact, but it’s indicative of the increasing extent, duration, and intensity of melting on Greenland,” wrote Ted Scambos, a senior research scientist at the National Snow and Ice Data Center at the University of Colorado. “Like the heat wave in the [U.S. Pacific] northwest, it’s something that’s hard to imagine without the influence of global climate change.”

“Greenland, like the rest of the world, is changing,” Scambos told the Washington Post. “We now see three melting events in a decade in Greenland — and before 1990, that happened about once every 150 years. And now rainfall: in an area where rain never fell.”

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Environment

South Korean Toilet Turns Poo Into Green Energy and Pays Its Users Digital Cash

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What if your morning #2 not only powered your stove to cook your eggs, but also allowed you to pay for your coffee and pastry on the way to class?

It seems like an absurd question, but one university in South Korea has invented a toilet that allows human excrement to not only be used for clean power, but also dumps a bit of digital currency into your wallet that can be exchanged for some fruit or cup noodles at the campus canteen, reports Reuters.

The BeeVi toilet – short for Bee-Vision – was designed by urban and environmental engineering professor Cho Jae-weon of the Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology (UNIST), and is meant to not only save resources but also reward students for their feces.

The toilet is designed to first deliver your excrement into a special underground tank, reducing water use, before microorganisms break the waste down into methane, a clean source of energy that can power the numerous appliances that dorm life requires.

“If we think out of the box, feces has precious value to make energy and manure,” Cho explained. “I have put this value into ecological circulation.”

The toilet can transform approximately a pound of solid human waste – roughly the average amount people poop per day – into some 50 liters of methane gas, said Cho. That’s about enough to generate half a kilowatt hour of electricity, enough to transport a student throughout campus for some of their school day.

Cho has even devised a special virtual currency for the BeeVi toilet called Ggool, or honey in Korean. Users of the toilet can expect to earn 10 Ggool per day, covering some of the many expenses students rack up on campus every day.

Students have given the new system glowing reviews, and don’t even mind discussing their bodily functions at lunchtime – even expressing their hopes to use their fecal credits to purchase books.

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