MAR 10, 2019 7:33 AM PDT

Arctic winters bring rain instead of snow

New concern for the Arctic has popped up following a recent study published in the journal The Cryosphere. The research reports frequent rain spells in Greenland – even in winter, when one would expect snow – are accelerating the melting of ice.

Dr. Marilena Oltmanns, lead author of the study and a researcher at the GEOMAR ocean research center in Germany, told BBC News: "We were surprised that there was rain in the winter. It does make sense because we're seeing flows of warm air coming up from the South, but it's still surprising to see that associated with rainfall."

Oltmanns and her colleagues analyzed satellite pictures of Greenland’s ice-sheet along with data from 20 automated weather stations that record rainfall in the area. Their analysis shows where the ice-sheet is melting. Greenland’s ice-sheet is of specific importance because it stores an enormous quantity of frozen water, which, if melted, would raise sea levels globally by seven meters.

The findings of the study highlight the increase in rainfall versus snowfall over the 1979-2012 time period. While the late twentieth century brought an average of approximately two spells of winter rain every year by 2012, the region was experiencing 12 spells of winter rain yearly. Furthermore, reports BBC News, “On more than 300 occasions between 1979-2012, the analysis found that rainfall events were triggering a melting of the ice.”

One aspect important to understand about this change in precipitation is how rain affects the ice-sheet’s surface. Even if rain falls in the winter and temperatures are cold enough that it soon after freezes, the ice becomes smoother and darker and more susceptible to summer melting.

The Arctic is warming twice as fast as the rest of the world. Photo: Pixabay

"This opens a door to a world that is extremely important to explore," said Columbia University Professor Marco Tedesco, another researcher on the study. "The potential impact of changes taking place in the winter and spring on what happens in summer needs to be understood."

The influence of winter rain on the already rapidly warming Arctic adds yet another factor into understanding the equation of climate change. In addition to melting, scientists fear the rapid rate of warming in the region may be affecting the jet stream, which could have serious repercussions on global weather patterns.

Sources: BBC News, The Cryosphere

About the Author
  • Kathryn is a curious world-traveller interested in the intersection between nature, culture, history, and people. She has worked for environmental education non-profits and is a Spanish/English interpreter.
You May Also Like
OCT 26, 2020
Earth & The Environment
Is more iron a good thing for the oceans even if it comes from coal power plants?
OCT 26, 2020
Is more iron a good thing for the oceans even if it comes from coal power plants?
A team of researchers from USC, Columbia University, University of Washington, MIT and the University of Hawaii, have fo ...
NOV 07, 2020
Earth & The Environment
Is Monarch wing size influenced by the environment?
NOV 07, 2020
Is Monarch wing size influenced by the environment?
Monarchs are shifting their migration patterns to live year-round in locations where the plants they need are always ava ...
DEC 10, 2020
Plants & Animals
The Surprising Way Honeybees Protect Hives from Hornets
DEC 10, 2020
The Surprising Way Honeybees Protect Hives from Hornets
"Murder hornets," more commonly known as giant hornets, might be new to North America, but in their native ran ...
JAN 21, 2021
Plants & Animals
Western Monarch Migration Near Extinction
JAN 21, 2021
Western Monarch Migration Near Extinction
Earlier this week, the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation reported that the western monarch butterfly populati ...
JAN 27, 2021
Earth & The Environment
How would nuclear war affect fisheries?
JAN 27, 2021
How would nuclear war affect fisheries?
New research published in the journal Communications Earth & Environment contemplates a post-apocalyptic world, ...
FEB 09, 2021
Earth & The Environment
Scientists Spotlight Dangers of Ocean Noise Pollution
FEB 09, 2021
Scientists Spotlight Dangers of Ocean Noise Pollution
Many ocean species use sound to communicate and survive. Sound is a crucial communication method since vision is limited ...
Loading Comments...