As extreme weather wreaked havoc across the globe in 2021, a stunning change was happening in the far northern Arctic, largely out of sight but detectable by a network of sensors. Lightning increased significantly in the region around the North Pole, which scientists say is a clear sign of how the climate crisis is altering global weather.
Vaisala, an environmental monitoring company that tracks lightning around the world, reported 7,278 lightning strokes occurred last year north of 80 degrees latitude, nearly twice as many as the previous nine years combined.
Arctic lightning is rare — even more so at such far northern latitudes — and scientists use it as a key indicator of the climate crisis, since the phenomena signals warming temperatures in the predominantly frozen region. Lightning occurs in energetic storms associated with an unstable atmosphere, requiring relatively warm and moist air, which is why they primarily occur in tropical latitudes and elsewhere during summer months.
The annual number of lightning strokes in the Arctic — the region north of around 65 degrees latitude — has remained consistent over the past decade, but it is now surging significantly in the extreme north. Chris Vagasky, meteorologist and lightning applications manager at Vaisala, said a warming planet is charging up the Arctic’s environment for more lightning to occur.