Justice League’s The Flash, the Avengers’ hammer-wielding Thor, and the X-Men’s Storm. What do these popular superheroes have in common? Besides incredible abilities, they share the emblem of the lightning bolt. Lightning can symbolize speed, or strength, or new life. Unfortunately, it also represents climate change.
Against epic heroes, climate change might be the ultimate villain. And it’s wielding lightning in an unexpected place: the Arctic. In the past, the Arctic has been too cold to produce many thunderstorms. Yet recent research suggests that as the Arctic warms, conditions for storms are improving. More thunderstorms mean more thunderbolts. How many more? A lot—one study shows that 35,000 lightning strikes were detected in the summer of 2010, and 240,000 in the summer of 2020. That means that in 2020, there was several times as much lightning as just ten years ago.
Like any dastardly villain, climate change threatens some serious damage. Lightning may look cool, but as a means of destruction, it’s pretty effective. As the frequency of lightning strikes rises, so do the chances for wildfires. In turn, these wildfires could release large deposits of carbon in the Arctic’s soil. And increased carbon in the atmosphere would only make climate change more severe.
While there’s debate about the exact number of recent bolts, scientists agree that the Arctic is warming faster than anywhere else on the planet. Unfortunately, there’s no superhero coming to save us. But in the fight against climate change, we can all be heroes, as we advocate for a better world.