Rain could soon overtake snow in parts of the Arctic, top scientists warn

A school bus sits in a resort parking lot in Chugach State Park during heavy rain in Girdwood, Alaska.Shannon Stapleton/Reuters

  • Precipitation could exceed snowfall along the Arctic fringes within decades, scientists warn.

  • The fate of the Arctic affects the entire planet, with much of the world’s ice reserves and permafrost.

  • Some areas of tundra, like southwest Alaska, no longer resemble the Arctic.

Some parts of the Arctic don’t seem very polar anymore.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, many regions are likely transitioning from snowfall-dominated climates to precipitation-dominated climates.

β€œOn the sidelines, the transition is already underway,” John Walsh, chief scientist at the International Center for Arctic Research at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, said Tuesday during a briefing at the meeting. fall of the American Geophysical Union.

Over the next few decades, he said, rain will become the predominant form of precipitation over most of the Arctic fringes.

A 2021 study in the journal Nature Communications found that precipitation could take over parts of the Arctic as early as the 2060s.

aerial view of snow capped mountain ice fields above ice breaking into the sea

Shattered sea ice is seen from the window of a NASA research flight over the east coast of Greenland.Lucas Jackson/Reuters

This is because temperatures are rising and precipitation is increasing in the Arctic, due to greenhouse gases emitted by humans using fossil fuels.

NOAA released its annual Arctic toll on Tuesday, indicating that the polar region continues to warm twice as fast as the rest of the planet. This causes the Arctic sea ice to shrink, the tundra to turn green with vegetation, and seabirds to starve en masse.

A patch of thin ice sits on top of shiny ice covered in water next to a mound of snow

Winter rains atop snow create icy roads and parking lots, melting a popular ice skating and pond hockey venue in Anchorage, Alaska.Yereth Rosen/Reuters

It’s not just that the Arctic is changing. In some places we lose it. It is a problem for the whole planet.

A rainy Arctic loses its snow cover faster, accelerating climate change there and exposing more permafrost – large areas of frozen ground that are slowly melting and releasing large amounts of methane, a dangerous greenhouse gas.

Some tundras don’t look so arctic anymore

reindeer graze on the grass near a large pond

Svalbard reindeer graze during a summer heat wave on the Svalbard archipelago near Longyearbyen, Norway.Sean Gallup/Getty Images

For the first time this year, NOAA has determined that precipitation in the Arctic – whether rain or snow – is increasing in all seasons.

“The precipitation story, I feel like it’s finally emerging,” Uma Bhatt, who leads atmospheric science at the University of Alaska’s Fairbanks Geophysical Institute, told Insider.

What causes more rain

There are a few possible explanations, Walsh said:

  1. More moisture is available as sea ice melts, leaving more open ocean to evaporate into the atmosphere.

  2. A warmer atmosphere holds more moisture, allowing it to drop more rain or snow.

  3. More storms pass over more open and warmer water. This can fuel more intense storms with greater rainfall.

remnant typhoon storm system in satellite image of alaska

The remnants of Typhoon Merbok pass through Alaska in September 2022.NOAA via AP

Either way, in colder regions like eastern Siberia or northern Canada, that means more snowfall.

But in places like Southwest Alaska, that means rain falling on snow and then freezing. That’s what happened in Fairbanks in December 2021, when nearly an inch and a half of rain fell and then froze.

The roads have become dangerous. Schools closed. Caribou and other grazing animals could not eat grass because it was covered in ice.

“These freezing rain events can be devastating, as the ice cover can persist for months until the spring thaw,” Walsh said.

The rain mixes the seasons

As the rain mixes up the seasons, the snow melts earlier, more shrubbery grows in its place, and places like Southwest Alaska are primed for big wildfires, Bhatt said.

fallen trees burned in Alaska

Smoke rises from a hot spot in the scar of Swan Lake Fire at Kenai National Wildlife Refuge, Alaska.Dan White/AlaskaHandout/Reuters

The 2022 Alaskan wildfire season reached 1 million acres burned faster than any previous season on record and ended with 3 million acres burned statewide.

Bhatt is part of a group of researchers evaluating whether the arctic tundra of southwest Alaska should be reclassified as subarctic tundra.

“Lately a lot of us have been thinking about how much has changed in the last 20 years. It’s changed a lot,” she said. “And I don’t know what they’ll look like in 10 years.”

Read the original article on Business Insider

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