Snow could cease to be common in the Arctic as of 2050. Rain will overtake snow in one of the coldest places on the planet and this phenomenon is expected to occur decades earlier than scientists predicted, thus fulfilling one of the least conservative and most worrying scenarios. The rains will gradually replace snowfall in the warm seasons and will appear more frequently during winter as a result of global warming of the planet.
This is the scenario posed by five researchers from Canada, the United States, Finland and the United Kingdom in a study published in the journal ‘Nature Communications’ and which is contributing to the transformation of one of the most iconic cold landscapes on the planet, which adds also to other problems such as the melting of glaciers and permafrost.
Projections from the latest climate models show a sharp increase in the rate and range of precipitation and that most of these future episodes will be rain. This change is also due to the increase in air temperature, the loss of sea ice and the transport of heat to the North Pole.
Scientist Michelle McCrystall, from the Center for Earth Observation Sciences at the University of Manitoba (Canada), points out that there are “huge ramifications” in these changes, such as less snow cover, more melting of the permafrost, more episodes of rain over snow and more floods due to increased river discharge, which will have a direct impact on our lives and that of animals.
In August it rained for the first time at the highest point in Greenland
The researchers note that that transition to an era dominated by rain in the Arctic will begin at different times depending on the season and region. For example, in autumn new climate models predict that the change will occur between 2050 and 2080, while old models predicted that this would occur between 2070 and 2080. In what could be considered an omen, since those researchers were developing the study, in August this year it rained for the first time at the highest point of the Greenland ice sheet.
“The fact that it was raining at the top of Greenland and that we may have more rain in the future is a bit of a shock to me,” McCrystall said, adding: “When we talk about this happening in 2100 it seems like a long time away, but it’s only 80 years. That is the next generation. And if we continue the trajectory we are on, a lot of problems could happen even faster than we have projected. “
The Arctic is transforming at a dizzying rate
The authors emphasize that reduced snow cover will further exacerbate Arctic and global warming through albedo feedback, increased winter carbon dioxide fluxes, soil methane releases, and snowmelt. permafrost. The change in precipitation will also affect soil and groundwater moisture, as well as the networks of underground fungi that support all aerial flora.
More episodes of rain than snow can be devastating to wild populations of caribou, reindeer and musk oxen – the rain can freeze and create layers of ice, preventing them from accessing forage buried under the snow.
“The problem we face today is that the Arctic is changing so fast that Arctic wildlife may not be able to adapt,” commented study co-author Mark Serreze. Similarly, he added: “It is not just a problem. for reindeer, caribou and musk ox, but also for the people of the north who depend on them ”.
The importance of not reaching the increase of 1.5ºC
The research team, which includes members of University College London and the University of Exeter (United Kingdom), the University of Colorado at Boulder (United States) and the University of Lapland (Finland), has observed that, if global warming is below 1.5ºC compared to the pre-industrial era, some of these projected changes from snowfall to rain may not occur in some regions of the Arctic. But if the world continues on its current trajectory, with the planet projected to warm an additional 3ºC by the end of the century, that transition is likely to happen.
“The new models could not be clearer that unless global warming is stopped, the future Arctic will be more humid. The seas, once frozen, will be open water, rain will replace snow,” he said. underlined James Screen of the Institute for Global Systems at the University of Exeter.
“People might say, ‘Well, what does that have to do with me?’ This is going to affect you and, in fact, it is affecting you now, “insisted McCrystall, who concludes:” What people must understand is that we live in a global society where everything is interconnected and that is true of the climate. We have a global climate. So what happens in one region will affect what happens in the rest of the world. “