The Arctic will soon see more rain than snow. Scientists say it may speed up global warming. – USA TODAY
Earlier in August, it rained on the summit of Greenland’s ice sheet for the first time in recorded history, and new research suggests that it not only will become a normal occurrence, but it will happen much sooner than previously thought.
The majority of Greenland is considered part of the Arctic region, along with some of northern Alaska, Canada and Russia.
Known for its frigid temperatures, which average -40 degrees Fahrenheit in the winter, it snows quite often. The Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve in northern Alaska records snow at least eight months of the year, and it has snowed at least once in each month of the year in recorded history. But research published in the journal Nature Communications on Tuesday shows much of the region will, on average, experience more rain than snow in the future.
The team of international researchers had previously concluded the region would eventually see more rain, but originally thought it wouldn’t start until around 2090. The new analysis on the region determined the rain would dominate the region as early as 2050 in some areas.
The reason for more rain is melting ice. When sea ice melts or breaks away, the open ocean water mixed with rising global temperatures results in more water evaporation, which then leads to rain falling. When Greenland’s summit experienced rain earlier this year, temperatures were above freezing for over nine hours, the third time since 2012 it had happened.
“The take-home message from this is really that changes are likely to occur much more rapidly and earlier than previously projected, which of course will mean that the subsequent impacts of this will also occur earlier,” Michelle McCrystall, lead researcher and postdoctoral fellow at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, told USA TODAY.
Greenland’s ice sheet is roughly 656,000-square-miles big, and if it were to completely melt, NASA says the global sea level would rise about 23 feet and Earth’s rotation would slow down enough to make the length of a day two milliseconds longer. A recent study showed that ice sheet melting would raise sea levels nearly a foot higher by the end of the century.
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Mark Serreze, co-author of the study and director of the National Snow and Ice Data Center, said in a statement local wildlife and humans may not be able to adapt to the rapid changes. But McCrystall points out that this will also affect the rest of the world.
“With more rain and less snow, this can also result in more permafrost melting, which could result in an increase in carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases,” McCrystall said. “It can be released in to the atmosphere and therefore cause an increase in greenhouse gases and thus further global warming.”
In August, the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released their “code red for humanity” report on climate change, and noted Earth would see global temperatures rise 1.5 degrees Celsius, or 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit. McCrystall and her team said if the planet can keep global temperatures from rising 1.5 degrees Celsius, then the changes can be prevented. But if this things persist, it can result in very severe global consequences.
“More urgent action is required to limit this as much as possible,” McCrystall said.
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