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Netherlands Polar Data Center

Publication - Towards a rain-dominated Arctic

Abstract

Climate models project a strong increase in Arctic precipitation over the coming century1, which has been attributed primarily to enhanced surface evaporation associated with sea-ice retreat2. Since the Arctic is still quite cold, especially in winter, it is often (implicitly) assumed that the additional precipitation will fall mostly as snow3. However, little is known about future changes in the distributions of rainfall and snowfall in the Arctic. Here we use 37 state-of-the-art climate models in standardized twenty-first-century (2006–2100) simulations4 to show a decrease in average annual Arctic snowfall (70°–90° N), despite the strong precipitation increase. Rain is projected to become the dominant form of precipitation in the Arctic region (2091–2100), as atmospheric warming causes a greater fraction of snowfall to melt before it reaches the surface, in particular over the North Atlantic and the Barents Sea. The reduction in Arctic snowfall is most pronounced during summer and autumn when temperatures are close to the melting point, but also winter rainfall is found to intensify considerably. Projected (seasonal) trends in rainfall and snowfall will heavily impact Arctic hydrology (for example, river discharge, permafrost melt)5, 6, 7, climatology (for example, snow, sea-ice albedo and melt)8, 9 and ecology (for example, water and food availability)5, 10.

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