Arctic shift toward 'rain-dominated reality' could come decades earlier than expected: research

The Arctic could become dominated by rain and experience less snowfall one or two decades earlier than expected, according to new research published in the journal Nature, which described any significant alteration in the ice climate as having "profound climatic, ecosystem and socio-economic impacts" across the world.

Researchers used an updated climate model to predict sea ice concentration, precipitation and snowfall coverage in the Arctic region to examine projections through 2100. The latest simulation "projects larger and faster increases in precipitation and an earlier transition to a rainfall-dominated Arctic in the summer and autumn."

By the end of the century, the simulation projected a 422 percent increase in rainfall during the winter, a 261 percent bump in the spring, a 71 percent rise in the summer and a 268 percent increase in the fall. All are significantly higher than previous projections, showing that rainfall is likely to accelerate in the coming years at a much faster rate than expected.

ADVERTISEMENT

The study also shows "twice as much" open water during the winter in the Arctic than previous projections, estimating the melting of sea ice could also increase more rapidly than previously thought. The Arctic already loses 1.2 trillion tons of ice per year.

Researchers estimate that for each degree of global warming, the melting of sea ice and the transition to a rainfall-dominated Arctic will occur more rapidly. World leaders hope to curb carbon emissions and other warming gases in order to keep the Paris Climate Accord agreement in place, which would keep the average global temperature increase at 1.5 degrees Celsius.

But the Arctic is already on a course for change, according to the study. The effects mean rising sea levels, disrupted marine ecosystems and increased flooding around the world.

The authors did not discuss any limitations in the study, which was conducted by five scientists from across the world.

But at least one climate researcher, who was not involved with this study, expressed skepticism about the results to The Washington Post.

“Precipitation is one of the most difficult variables for models to get right,” said Marilena Oltmanns of the United Kingdom's National Oceanography Centre.