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Arctic Forecast: Rainy With a Chance of Chaos

Shift to more rain than snow on track to happen decades earlier than expected
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Nov 30, 2021 12:25 PM CST
Arctic Forecast: Rainy With a Chance of Chaos
A drop of water falls off an iceberg melting in the Nuup Kangerlua Fjord in southwestern Greenland in this 2017 file photo.   (AP Photo/David Goldman, File)

(Newser) – A weird thing happened at the summit of Greenland over the summer: It rained for the first time in recorded history. Now, a new study in Nature Communications delivers a clear message—get used to it. The study predicts that the Arctic is on a path to seeing more rain than snow, a fundamental shift that could occur between 2060 and 2070, decades earlier than expected, reports the Guardian. Under previous models, the shift wasn't projected to begin until 2090, per CNN. The timeframe in the study is based on the planet's current rate of warming, and the shift might happen slower or faster depending on how that rate changes. The study's authors lay out the potentially ruinous chain of events that could unfold when the shift happens, including rising sea levels along coastal cities.

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"What happens in the Arctic doesn’t stay in the Arctic," lead author Michelle McCrystall of the University of Manitoba tells the Washington Post. "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," she adds to CNN. The researchers reference the long-held goal of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. If that figure rises to 3 degrees, they expect rain to dominate most of the Arctic. "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 (including Greenland) probably still will transition," says McCrystall. However, she adds that the current trajectory points to a 3-degree rise. (Read more Arctic stories.)

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