The Arctic is getting wetter and wetter.
For a long time, scientists couldn’t identify any trends in the amount of snow, rain and freezing rain in the region, but that has now changed.
A survey by the University of Alaska Fairbanks found statistically significant increases in precipitation on the order of 10-15% since 1950.
It humidifies everywhere, and in all seasons, with a transition from snow to rain on the borders of the Arctic where the temperatures are the highest.
October 2021 to September 2022 was the 3rd wettest year in the last 72 years.
The assessment is contained in the 2022 Arctic Report Card, an annual publication of the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
It is a peer-reviewed document that for the past 17 years has mapped climate impacts in the polar north – one of the fastest warming regions on Earth.
It tracks key Arctic indicators, or “vital signs,” and this year precipitation is added to that list for the first time.
Professor John Walsh of the University of Alaska Fairbanks said the scarcity of monitoring stations in the Arctic, especially over the ocean, had always made it extremely difficult to appreciate certain weather patterns. But by taking two independent analytical approaches – using existing data and a global climate model – it was now possible to get a meaningful picture.
“We also looked at trends in heavy precipitation events,” he explained.
“For example, Utqiagvik in northern Alaska had its wettest day on record last July.
“Over most parts of the Arctic, there are positive trends in the heaviest precipitation amounts over one day and five days. This is particularly true in the subarctic North Atlantic, while the number of wet days consecutive increases over much of the central Arctic.
Freezing rain becomes a bigger problem. Alaska’s second largest city, Fairbanks, recently suffered a 35mm fall. The problem is the layer of ice that remains, it makes the roads more dangerous and creates difficulties for foraging until the spring thaw.
Other complications include the rapid melting of heavier snowfalls, leading to flooding.
“The infrastructure in place, the drainage systems in the villages, in the urban areas, are designed for the past,” Professor Walsh said. “And as we get new extremes of precipitation, the infrastructure won’t be able to handle everything that falls.”
Warmer temperatures mean more moisture evaporates from the ocean, which will eventually precipitate and appear as snow or rain. But higher temperatures are also melting the sea ice cover, exposing the ocean more to evaporation, leading to further precipitation.
“The wolf is in the house,” commented Noaa administrator Rick Spinrad.
“By that I mean the climate impacts we’re seeing in Alaska: melting permafrost that’s distorting roads; melting ice that’s forcing entire indigenous communities to move; warming waters that’s forcing fish to migrate, with ripple effects for the entire seafood industry in Alaska; fire seasons that last much longer than they ever have – this is just a glimpse of what parties in the lower 48 (U.S. states) could expect in the very near future.”
Jackie Qataliña Schaeffer is Director of Climate Initiatives for the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium. She said: “Indigenous peoples of the Arctic interact intimately with our environment. And our safety depends on knowing how to operate on land and sea.
“The distribution, quality, thickness and timing of ice on the ocean, lakes and rivers determine almost every aspect of life in the Arctic, from boating to whaling. , sealing, fishing and foraging safety.”