Rain May Overtake Snow Soon In Some Areas Of The Arctic, Scientists Warn

  • Scientists warn that in a few decades, precipitation on the fringes of the Arctic could surpass snowfall.
  • The fate of the Arctic affects the entire planet, with most of the world’s ice stores and frozen ground.
  • Some tundra regions, such as southwestern Alaska, no longer seem so Arctic.

Some areas of the Arctic no longer seem multipolar.

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

“At the fringes, the transition is essentially already happening,” John Walsh, chief scientist at the International Arctic Research Center at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, told a briefing Tuesday at the fall meeting of the American Geophysical Union.

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

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

Aerial view of snowy mountains, ice fields on the ice mingling with the sea.

Fragmented sea ice is seen from the window of a NASA research flight over Greenland’s east coast.

Lucas Jackson/Reuters

This is because temperatures are rising and precipitation is increasing throughout the Arctic due to greenhouse gases from human use of fossil fuels.

NOAA released its annual Arctic report Tuesday, reporting that the polar region continues to warm twice as fast as the rest of the planet. This is causing Arctic sea ice to decline, the tundra turning green with vegetation, and seabirds starving in droves.

thin ice sign sits on shiny ice covered with water next to snow mound

Winter rains on top of snow are melting a popular ice skating and pond hockey field in Anchorage, Alaska, forming a secret on roads and parking lots.

Yereth Rosen/Reuters

It’s not just the North Pole that has changed. In some places we lose it. This is the problem of the entire planet.

A rainy Arctic loses snow cover faster, accelerating climate change there, and exposing more permafrost – vast areas of frozen land that slowly melts and releases large amounts of the dangerous greenhouse gas methane.

Some tundras no longer look so Arctic

reindeer graze on the grass by the big pond

Svalbard reindeer graze during a summer heatwave in the Svalbard archipelago near Longyearbyen, Norway.

Sean Gallup/Getty Images

NOAA has determined for the first time this year that Arctic precipitation — rain or snow — has increased in all seasons.

“The rain story, I feel like it’s finally unfolding,” Uma Bhatt, head of atmospheric sciences at the University of Alaska’s Fairbanks Geophysics Institute, told Insider.

What causes more rain?

There are several possible explanations, Walsh said:

  1. As the sea ice melts, more moisture is available, leaving more open ocean to evaporate into the atmosphere.
  2. A warmer atmosphere holds more moisture and allows more rain or snow to fall.
  3. More storms pass over more open water and warmer water. This can feed more intense storms with heavier precipitation.

storm system typhoon remnant on alaska satellite image

The remnants of Typhoon Merbok cross Alaska in September 2022.


Whatever the case, in the coldest regions like eastern Siberia or northern Canada this means more snowfall.

But in places like southwestern Alaska, this means that rain falls on the snow and then freezes. This is what happened in December 2021 when it rained about an inch and a half in Fairbanks and then froze.

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

“These freezing rain events can be devastating because they can persist for months until the ice sheet thaws in the spring,” Walsh said. Said.

Rain mixes the seasons

As the rainy seasons mix together, the snow melts earlier, more shrubs grow in place, and places like southwestern Alaska are poised for major wildfires, Bhatt said.

burning trees fell in alaska

Smoke rises from the hotspot on the Swan Lake Fire trail at Kenai National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska.

Dan White/AlaskaHandout/Reuters

The 2022 Alaska wildfire season reached 1 million acres, burning faster than any previous season recorded, and ended with 3 million acres burning across the state.

Bhatt is part of a group of researchers evaluating whether the Arctic tundra in southwestern Alaska should be reclassified as sub-Arctic tundra.

“Recently most of us think about how much has changed in the last 20 years. It has changed a lot,” he said. “And I don’t know what they’re going to look like 10 years from now.”

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