What more rain in the Arctic means for people, ecosystems, and wildlife

What more rain in the Arctic means for people, ecosystems, and wildlife

This article was originally published onThe Conversation.

The Arctic is dependent on the cold and frozen conditions throughout the year. This limits the freedom to travel, hunt, and make daily decisions. These conditions are rapidly changing with the Arctic warming.

The Arctic is seeing more rain than it used to snow, which is a change from the past. Sea ice that used to protect coastlines from erosion by fall storms is now forming later. Traveling by snowmobile is becoming more dangerous because of the thinner river and lakeice.

Ship traffic in Arctic is increasing, which presents new risks to fragile ecosystems. The Greenland Ice Sheet is also continuing to send freshwater into the ocean, raising global Sea Level.

The annual Arctic Report CardWe released this report Dec. 13, 2022. It was authored by 144 Arctic scientists from 11 countries.

What does more rain in the Arctic mean for people, ecosystems, wildlife?
The Arctic Report Card discusses some of the Arctic headlines for 2022.
NOAA Climate.gov

The Arctic is becoming wetter, and more rainy

We found that All seasons are seeing an increase in Arctic precipitationThese seasons are changing, and they are changing.

A lot of this new precipitation now falls as rain, sometimes during winter or traditionally frozen times of year. This can disrupt daily life for humans, animals, and plants.

Roads become more dangerously icy and communities are at greater risk from river flooding events. Winter rain can cause a thick layer of ice that blocks reindeer access to vegetation below the snow. This is especially true for Indigenous reindeer herding communities.

Map shows significant increases of precipitation in the Arctic during winter and autumn.
NOAA Climate.gov

Arctic-wide, this shift towards wetter conditions could disrupt the lives and species of animals and plants that evolved for dry and cold environments. This could potentially alter Arctic people’s local food sources.

Fairbanks, Alaska, received 1.4 inches of freezing precipitation in December 2021. The moisture created an ice layer which lasted for months. It brought down trees and disrupted travel, infrastructure, and the ability for some Arctic animals to forage. The resulting ice layer was largely Responsible for the deaths of a third herd of bisons Interior Alaska

There are many reasons Arctic precipitation has increased.

Sea ice is rapidly decreasing, which means that more open water is being exposed, which in turn feeds more moisture into the atmosphere. The Arctic region has experienced more than a decade of drought. 40% decrease in summer sea-ice extent Over the 44-year satellite record

The Arctic atmosphere is also heating More than twice as fast the rest of the worldThis warmer air can retain more moisture.

Both the time series chart and the map show the decline in Arctic sea ice.
NOAA Climate.gov

The wetter and rainier Arctic is accelerating the acceleration below the ground Permafrost thawThis is the foundation of most Arctic communities and infrastructure. This results in crumbling buildings, cracked roads, sinkholes, and the loss of community coastlines along rivers or oceans.

Wetter conditions can also affect the building of a reliable winter icepack and safe, reliable rivers ice. This often hinders Indigenous communities’ efforts. Harvest and secure their food.

When Typhoon Merbok It struck in September 2022, fueled primarily by unusually warm Pacific waters. Its hurricane-force winds and 50-foot waves, along with far-reaching storm surge, damaged homes and infrastructure over 1,000 miles, and disrupted harvesting and hunting at a crucial moment.

The Arctic is experiencing warmer temperatures than the rest of the globe, according to both the time series and the globe charts.
NOAA Climate.gov

The Arctic snow season is shrinking

The Arctic is dependent on snow, and the snow season has been shrinking.

The Arctic is kept cool by snow. It reflects solar radiation back into space rather than being absorbed by the darker, snow-free ground. Its presence is a benefit. Lake ice lasts longer into spring It helps to preserve moisture in the soil through summer, which prevents overly dry conditions that can be ripe. devastating wildfires.

It is also a travel platform and habitat for hunters, as well as a refuge for many animals that depend on it for nesting and protection against predators.

A The snow season is shrinking These critical functions are being disrupted. The Arctic’s June snow cover is falling at a rate of almost 20% per decade. This is a dramatic shift in the way the North experiences the snow season.

Even in the depths of winter, temperatures are rising even in the midst of it all. Utqiagvik, a remote Alaskan town, reached 40 degrees Fahrenheit (4.4 C). 8 F above freezing – Dec. 5, 2022, even if the sun is not visible from mid-November to mid-January.

Map and time series chart showing how June snowfall has declined since the 1970s.
NOAA Climate.gov

Fatal falls through river, lake, or thin sea ice are On the rise Alaska is a place where disasters can occur immediately and also adds to the already tragic situation. Climate change has a cumulative human cost The generational changes that Arctic Indigenous Peoples are currently experiencing are unprecedented.

Global problems caused by Greenland’s ice melt

Arctic warming has far-reaching consequences that go beyond the Arctic. 2022 will see the onset of Arctic warming. Greenland’s ice sheet lost ice for 25 consecutive years. This increases the risk of rising seas, which increases the need for coastal communities to plan for storm surge and flooding mitigation.

The Greenland Ice Sheet experienced an eruption in September 2022. Unprecedented late-season melt event on 36% of the ice sheets surface. This was followed by another melt event, even later, that same month. It was caused by remnants of Hurricane Fiona moving east along eastern North America.

International Teams of scientists They are devoted to assessing the extent to which Greenland’s ice sheet’s ice loss and formation are out of balance. They are also learning more about the transformative role of warming ocean waters.

What does more rain in the Arctic mean for people, ecosystems, wildlife?
NOAA Climate.gov

The Arctic Report Card for this year includes NASA Oceans Melting Greenland mission (OMG) reveals findings This has confirmed that rising ocean temperatures are increasing the loss of ice at the edges.

The Arctic is being reshaped by human-caused changes

We live in a new geological age. The Anthropocene — where human activity is the dominant factor in our climate and environment.

This requires decision-makers to be better able to anticipate the interaction between climate change and human activity in the warming Arctic. Satellite-based ship data from 2009 shows that this is the case. See-ship traffic As the Arctic region has warmed, so has the number of high seas and exclusive economic zones in all Arctic countries.

Map showing an increase in Arctic ship traffic since 2009, with nearly 50% more shipping around Norway and a more than 12% increase near Russia. Paired with a photo showing a ship in sea-ice.
NOAA Climate.gov

These ecologically sensitive waters are at grave risk from increased ship traffic. This could lead to a shift in Arctic trade routes and further human-caused stress on the Arctic ecosystems, peoples, and climate. These concerns are magnified by uncertainties surrounding the geopolitical tensions that Russia and other Arctic states face over its war in Ukraine.

Rapid Arctic warming calls for new forms of partnership, information sharing, and even new forms of partnership Between scientists and Indigenous knowledge-holders. While cooperation and building resilience may help reduce some risks, global action is crucial to curb greenhouse gas pollution.

Matthew L. Druckenmiller, a Research Scientist at National Snow and Ice Data Centers (NSIDC), Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciencess (CIRES), University of Colorado Boulder. Rick Thoman is an Alaska Climate Specialist with the University of Alaska Fairbanks. Twila Moon is a Deputy Scientist at the National Snow and Ice Data Center, Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences, University of Colorado Boulder.

Disclosure statement: Matthew Druckenmiller is eligible for research funding from the National Science Foundation and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Rick Thoman is funded by the NOAA/Arctic Program. Twila Moon receives research funding through the National Science Foundation (NSF), and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administrations (NOAA).

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