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Research finds less snow and more rain for the Arctic
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Research finds less snow and more rain for the Arctic

Aerial view of ice covered ocean with a line of mountain peaks in the distance. A small group of travellers are gathered near snow machines and wooden sleds.


Although the Arctic is often viewed as a cold, snowy, and white region, this image is rapidly changing. The Arctic is currently warming much faster than the rest of the planetIt is currently experiencing rapid sea ice loss.

As a climate scientist and modeller, my interest is in the Arctic climate and how it might change due to global warming. My colleagues and me found that Arctic precipitation is changing at a faster rate than previously thought.

The Arctic sees the majority of precipitation fall in the form snow. However, the Arctic is rapidly changing to a rain-dominated climate. For example, August will see the Arctic transition to a rain-dominated climate. it rained at the summit of Greenland’s ice sheet for the first time. These changes will have enormous implications for land, wildlife, and human livelihoods.

Climate past, present, and future

Studies from earlier studies generally agreed that precipitation will increase in the Arctic throughout this centuryThis will be a great help! more likely fall as rain than snow. We wanted to find out how these projections might have changed due to the recent release data.

This data is generated using the Coupled Model Intercomparison ProjectCMIP, also known as CMIP, is openly accessible and freely available to everyone. This project basically generates data from around 50 centers around the world based upon the same initial conditions to better understand past and present climate.

These models produce data that provides information about current and future ocean and atmospheric temperatures, sea ice conditions, winds, and other factors, just to name a few. The Phase 6 phase has produced the new model data. known as CMIP6We compared the new phase to the previous one. Phase 5 or CMIP5.

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As you can see, this means that we have a lot data. This is crucial when assessing the future and current climates. The climate and particularly future climate change are hard to predict. These models, which are akin to simulations, provide the best representation of our climate.

We were able to demonstrate in this study that the model data used does a good job of simulating the observed climate. The average precipitation in these models is very similar with the observations. This gives us more confidence in the models, and their future projections.

More rain, less snow

The study itself examined the impact of precipitation changes at the end and beginning of the century (2090-2100) in relation to the start of this century (2005-14), in all seasons CMIP6 through CMIP5. Comparatively to CMIP5 projections it is expected that there will be more rain and fewer snow in the Arctic by end of the century, especially in winter and autumn.

These changes are mainly due to warmer temperatures, the transport of moisture into the Arctic, and the decline of Arctic sea-ice. More water in the Arctic and more moisture will mean more precipitation. This combination of warmer temperatures and an increase in water content in the atmosphere will result in more precipitation, rather than snow.

Aerial view of ice covered ocean with a line of mountain peaks in the distance. A small group of travellers are gathered near snow machines and wooden sleds.
Tourists travel on the ice with snow machines qamutiikNear Sirmilik National Park, Nunavut Canada.

The transition to rain-dominated precipitation takes place a few decades earlier than previously predicted, depending on the season and whereabouts. For example, the central Arctic becomes more rain-dominated in autumn 2070 than 2090.

Knock-on effects

Our study also examined the effects of global warming on precipitation, specifically in relation to the global agreements. stay within a 1.5 C world following the Paris Accord. The Arctic should be dominated by snowfall if global warming is kept below 1.5 C. However, if we go ahead with current projections on target for 3 C of warmingThen, the majority of the Arctic will be dominated by rain by the end of this century.

These rapid changes in precipitation can create serious problems within and outside the Arctic. Rain-on-snow events can cause ice to form on top or within the snow, especially when they are followed by freezing temperatures.

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This can make it more difficult for Arctic residents to travel and transport. However, it can also mean that many Arctic animals, like reindeer, caribou, have difficulty breaking through the ice crust to get to their food below the snow. This can lead. huge die-offs. These changes also have global consequences: Rain on Greenland’s ice sheet, especially near the coast could lead to more glacial melt into the ocean and contribute to further sea level rise.

A man walks behind hundreds of reindeer on a snowy landscape.
A Nenets herder in Arctic Russia drives his reindeer. When the ice blocks the animals from eating lichen or plants under the snow, herders must pay to feed them.

These changes are expected to occur faster than previously thought, resulting in more severe consequences. However, we can still be optimistic about the future if global warming is limited to 1.5 C, as many world leaders have pledged to do. If we reduce our global emissions, the Arctic snowfall decline will not be as severe, so life can continue to thrive in the Arctic and around the globe.


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