Research Suggests Arctic Rainfall Will Surpass Snowfall Decades Earlier Than Predicted

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As the warming climate continues to affect weather patterns, researchers have their eye on precipitation in the Arctic. In August of this year, rain fell over the summit of Greenland for the first time on record and scientists believe it's a prediction of what's to come. According to a new study published in Nature Communications, rainfall will increasingly take over snowfall in the Arctic in the coming decades, much earlier than previously anticipated. Lead study author Michelle McCrystall told CNN that earlier modeling suggested this wouldn't occur until between 2090 and 2100. "But with the new set of models, this actually has been pushed forward to about between 2060 and 2070, so there's quite a jump there by 20 years with this early transition," she said.

To arrive at their latest predictions, McCrystall and her team analyzed precipitation data from the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project by the World Climate Research Programme. Researchers discovered that the Arctic is expected to experience more rain than snow some time between 2060 and 2070—much earlier than previous projections. This shift marks a major transition in the Arctic's precipitation patterns. The authors note that the drastic switch between precipitation types could have devastating effects on other aspects of the environment including global heating, starvation of wildlife, changes in marine food webs, and disrupted ocean currents.

picture taken on a helicopter from Kebnekaise sweden
picture taken on a helicopter from Kebnekaise sweden

JONATHAN NACKSTRAND/AFP via Getty Images

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The changing weather patterns could also be harmful to Indigenous populations. "Things that happen in the Arctic don't specifically stay in the Arctic," McCrystall says. "The fact that there could be an increase in emissions from permafrost thaw or an increase in global sea level rise, it is a global problem, and it needs a global answer."

The new study shows that this change could potentially be staved off if the Earth's warming is limited to just 1.5 degrees Celsius. "If we did stay within this 1.5-degree world, the Arctic could remain snow-dominant by the end of the century, but some parts probably still will transition," McCrystall says. However, in August, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change published a report stating that the planet is quickly approaching 1.5 degrees Celsius—a threshold scientists believe Earth needs to stay under to avoid the most detrimental ramifications of climate change. An analysis by Climate Action Trackers suggests Earth is currently on track for 2.7 degrees Celsius of warming. At approximately three degrees of warming, scientists found that most areas in the Arctic will experience more rainfall than snowfall.