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Arctic predicted to get more rain than snow by 2060

This increase in rainfall could have devastating effects on the Indigenous people living in the region and on communities across the globe, researchers said.

(CN) — Rainfall in the Arctic may increase at a rate faster than researchers previously thought, according to a recent study modelling precipitation throughout the rest of the century.

The study, which was published Tuesday in the journal Nature Communications, estimates that the total rainfall in the Arctic will eclipse the amount of snowfall decades earlier than scientists initially predicted. The projections from the study suggest that rain could become the dominant form of precipitation as early as 2060 or 2070, rather than 2090, wreaking havoc on a region that is already warming faster than nearly every other on the planet.

Michelle McCrystall, the lead author of the study and a post-doctoral research fellow focused on Arctic climate change at the University of Manitoba, said in an interview that the rain depletes the snowpack and the sea ice, resulting in rising sea levels, receding glaciers and more heat in the atmosphere because less solar radiation is reflected away by the white snow. She said there could be “huge ramifications and global impact” if Arctic rainfall continues to follow the trajectory modeled in the study.

“People that are removed from thinking about the Arctic everyday like I am imagine a lot of snow, a lot of white and obviously very cold,” McCrystall said. “This isn’t really the picture as much as people think and it is changing quite rapidly.”

McCrystall said rain outpacing snow precipitation in the Arctic 20 years earlier than previously estimated could influence everything from international shipping routes to the subsistence by Indigenous people of the far north.

“Local reindeer herders and trappers and people like that really depend on a relatively stable climate or environment for their herds,” said McCrystall, noting the ice layers created in the snowpack can make it difficult for animals to forage. “It really affects a greater community than people would imagine, within the Arctic and in the lower latitudes as well.”

McCrystall and her colleagues found the rainfall is likely to persist across seasons. She said more research will be necessary to see if the precipitation will occur in extreme storm events or will be “elongated” over days.

Further research will also be necessary to ascertain the effects of increasing rainfall rates on specific areas, both in the Arctic and throughout the rest of the world, McCrystall said. She said she and other scientists are always seeking “better observations of the Arctic” to more fully model the effects of the changing climate. McCrystall said her research was the latest in a series of constantly improving iterations of models.

The study adds to a recent string of research articles finding the extent of climate change in Arctic is greater than previously estimated. Research published Nov. 24 found the warming of the Arctic Ocean began decades earlier than scientists thought.

Still, McCrystall said she saw “a bit of optimism” in their study as well, pointing out the models indicated the rainfall trends in a world that warms by 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) versus one that warms by 3 degrees (5.4 degrees Fahrenheit). She said that if policy backs up the promises of world leaders to battle climate change, the worst effects could be avoided.

“Following the Paris accord, we can show that we can actually limit this transition happening if we can stay within this 1.5 degree world,” McCrystall said. “If we can make the changes that we have talked about in global politics and that political leaders have set out, these changes may not be as severe as this paper. If we don’t follow the current trajectory, we could stay within mega-snowfall dominated Arctic.”

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