According to scientists, climate change will bring extremely rare thunderstorms to the boreal forests at high latitudes and the arctic tundra areas.
The first known lightning strike within 300 miles of the North Pole was recorded by the National Weather Service in Alaska in 2019. A 100 percent increase in lightning strikes is now forecast by the end of the century, according to scientists from the University of California.
“We have projected how lightning will change in high-latitude boreal forests and arctic tundra regions across North America and Eurasia,” said Yang Chen, a researcher at the UCI Department of Earth System Science, who conducted the new Led work on an article in Nature Climate Change.
Scientists expect more and more thunderstorms in the northern regions, which in turn will lead to dangerous forest fires and destruction.
The researchers were surprised by the size of the change;a the increase in lightning bolts caused by climate change in regions closer to the equator was much smaller, he said.
The results suggest that the Arctic weather during summer will be closer to the weather seen today far south, where thunderstorms are more common, the scientists believe.
Scientists had theorized that lightning strikes were responsible for starting the record number of forest fires, which struck the state of Alaska in 2015, said James Randerson, a professor in the UCI’s Department of Earth System Science who co-authored the lightning study and was part of a NASA-led field campaign investigating the wildfires.
The researchers examined 20-year-old NASA satellite data on lightning strikes in northern regions and found one Connection between the lightning rate and climatic factors.
Using United Nations climate projections, scientists said there was a significant increase in lightning strikes as a result of the increase in atmospheric convection and more intense thunderstorms.
Fires can cause many problems in the Arctic. This includes the burning of short grasses, mosses and shrubs, which are important components of the tundra ecosystems. Once these low-growing plants are burned away, seeds from trees could more easily grow on the bare ground and forests could expand. This would mean that typically snow-covered landscapes could be replaced by trees.
Further global warming
However, this could lead to further warming in the region as snow, which previously reflected sunlight into space, The scientists believe it would be replaced by darker forests that absorb the sun’s energy.
The fires could also melt more permafrost, the year-round frozen ground that defines much of the Arctic landscape. Permafrost stores a lot of organic carbon, which turns into the greenhouse gases carbon dioxide and methane when it is melted from the ice. This will result in even more warming when it is released.
Scientists want new satellite missions that can monitor arctic and boreal latitudes for lightning strikes and the fires they may start, to improve knowledge about warming in the region.