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Monday, September 3, 2018

Heat wave destroys Sweden's highest point

Por Nina

Sweden has a new high point. The southern peak of Kebnekaise has lost the highest mountain title in the country as a result of the heat wave. "It's scary," says Gunhild Rosqvist, a geography professor at the University of Stockholm. Rosqvist has spent years studying the effects of global warming and the latest data on the mountain has alarmed him. "All this environment is melting, the snow melts and affects the entire ecosystem: plants, animals, weather, everything", explained the teacher. The peak of the mountain has lost 14 centimeters of snow per day in the month of July. According to the calculations of the scientist, that represents four meters of snow less. "The surface of the glacier has never been as low as it is today," said Rosqvist.

"Here you see the effects of climate change so clearly. And for Sweden, the southern peak of Kebnekaise is such an iconic symbol." A popular tourist destination located in the extreme north of Sweden, Kebnekaise has two main peaks: one on the south covered by a glacier and another one to the north, free of ice. The southern peak lost four meters of snow between July 2 and July 31, 2018. "It seemed different this year. The snow was melting. I saw melted water dripping down the sides; I had never seen that before," said Rosqvist.

When measured recently, the southern peak reached 2,097 meters above sea level, only 20 centimeters higher than the 2096.8 meters from the northern end. Daily in July, the southern peak lost an average of 14 centimeters of snow, as Sweden recorded record temperatures that triggered dozens of wildfires across the country, including in the Arctic Circle. On Thursday, Rosqvist said that the southern peak was certainly lower than the northern peak. "We have not gone up today to measure it, but we have checked the temperature and it was very hot yesterday, more than 20 °C so it must have melted", below the level of the northern peak, she said.

Rosqvist and her team will measure the peak again around September 8, "when the summer is over. It could be a meter under the northern peak at the end of summer." The southern glacier, whose height has been recorded since 1880, has been melting one meter each year in the last two decades, according to the University of Stockholm. The glacier could grow this coming winter and the southern peak could even rise above the northern peak again, before something melts next summer if the weather is warm. According to Martin Hedberg, meteorologist at the Climate Center in Sweden, "extreme heat is 100 times more common today than in the 50s, 60s and 70s" worldwide.

"The temperature differences between the Arctic and the Mediterranean are shrinking," he said. The two Kebnekaise peaks can compete for the title of Sweden's highest point in the coming years, Rosqvist predicted. He regretted that the political objectives to combat climate change, including the Paris Agreement, which advocates limiting the global increase in temperature to 2 °C, were not having enough impact. "It's a lesson this year in Sweden, and yet nobody is talking about this," he said irritably, referring to the country's general elections on September 9.

With the last three years being the hottest ever recorded on Earth, he said changes were needed "in the way our societies are structured" to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. He cited cuts in the use of fossil fuels and more electric cars as examples. "Many people want these changes and are prepared to change their consumption habits," he added. The last three months of heat, a lot of sun and little rainfall pleased the vacationers, but they caused a headache to the Swedish farmers. According to estimates from the country's Department of Agriculture, the cereal harvest will be 30 percent less than normal and the possibilities of stocking up feed for livestock were reduced, which in turn caused their killing over what was planned.

The Government of Sweden allocated 1,200 million crowns (about 120 million euros) as aid to farmers affected by the drought. This money will be used mainly to offset the expenses in the acquisition of feed and the loss of income and will be granted during the current year and the year to come. Meanwhile, in Eastern Europe, the temperature reached 34 degrees in Poland, where electricity plants entered the emergency phase due to the widespread use of fans and air conditioners. The authorities in Warsaw have already installed fresh water dispensers on the streets and advised people not to go out. The precautionary measures are replicated in at least eight of the 28 member countries of the European Union, which have called for more flexible environmental standards and crop diversification due to adverse weather.