The change is expected to occur between 2050 and 2080, according to research conducted by the University of Manitoba and published in the journal Natural communications. Previously, the transition to a rain-dominated Arctic was expected to occur somewhere between 2070 and 2090. Lead author Michelle McCrystall, a postdoctoral fellow at the university’s Center for Earth Observation Science, said more than 50% of precipitation in the Arctic falling as rain instead of snow will have “global implications” and a “Very direct impact” on indigenous peoples across the Arctic.
The most significant changes in precipitation, she added, will occur in the fall. The predominant snowfall and snowfall is still expected during the winter months, even by the turn of the century.
Some regions will make the transition sooner than others, she explained, depending on their temperatures and proximity to the North Pole.
The study’s projections derive from an aggregation of data of the whole world.
McCrystall said the range from 2050 to 2080 in which the transition could occur reflects the variability of all data used, but the average indicates that it will occur, more specifically, around 2070.
McCrystall said more rain in the Arctic would also lead to more rain-on-snow events – when the rain falls on an existing snowpack and freezes, forming layers of ice on or inside the snow – which would be “very damaging” to foraging mammals. like reindeer, caribou and muskox.
This ice will make it harder for animals foraging for food to reach the meadows below.
“It can cause a huge famine and die in a lot of these populations,” she said.
Mark Serreze, co-author of the study and director of the National Snow and Ice Data Center in Boulder, Colorado, said in a statement that “the Arctic is changing so quickly that arctic wildlife might not be able to survive. adapt.
“It’s not just a problem for reindeer, caribou and muskoxen, but also for the northerners who depend on them.
Kent Moore, professor of atmospheric physics at the University of Toronto, who is not on the research team, told CBC News that rains on snow would also cause “incredible” stress on hairy animals like ox musky.
“If it is raining and freezing, then they have some kind of frozen ice on their body, and it can be very, very stressful for them. They can lose heat faster. ”
A transition likely to occur during our lifetime, according to a study
Moore said he’s not surprised the Arctic will experience more precipitation in the future, but he’s surprised when researchers predict the transition to more rain than snow will occur.
“Twenty years is quite important,” he said. “Animals have to adapt quickly, but we also have to adapt faster. And it’s always a challenge, this adaptation, ”he said.
Walt Meier, a senior researcher at the National Snow and Ice Data Center at the University of Colorado at Boulder, who is also not one of the study’s authors, said a difference of a few decades means this transition is more likely to occur over the lifespan of current generations.
“It becomes, for a lot of people, not something that my children or grandchildren might see, but something that I could very well live to see,” he said, adding that neither will he. was not surprised by the new prediction.
Rising sea level, thawing permafrost
Meier and McCrystall both said an increase in Arctic precipitation would contribute to sea level rise, especially as more glaciers along the Greenland coast would fall into the water.
Rain fell on the summit of Greenland – a place where precipitation had previously always fallen as snow or ice – for the first time recorded This year.
The rain could also cause the permafrost to thaw, McCrystall said.
“With more warming and more precipitation, this kind of filter will seep into the soil and allow the soil to warm up,” she said. Permafrost stores carbon, she pointed out, and if it thaws, “you’re going to get a lot more greenhouse gases going into the atmosphere.”
McCrystall said the increase in carbon creates a negative impact, as carbon emissions contribute to the warming of the atmosphere.
“The changes that happen in the Arctic don’t really stay in the Arctic,” she said.
While she doesn’t see her research as a call to action, McCrystall wants people to put more pressure on politicians to make tangible changes that will have big impacts in the fight against climate change.
The research team, which also included members of University College London, University of Colorado Boulder, University of Lapland and University of Exeter, said that if the world is capable of remain below 1.5 ° C of global warming, the transition to a precipitation-dominated precipitation regime may not occur in some arctic regions.
But, if the world stays on its current course, the transition is likely.