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More rain, less snow on Arctic

More rain, less snow on Arctic

According to climate researchers, more rain than snow will fall in the Arctic. Moreover, oceans are getting hotter, and they’re also losing oxygen

According to climate researchers in the Netherlands, at the end of this century more rain than snow will fall in the Arctic. It was already known that, due to global warming, up to 60% more precipitation would fall in the Arctic.

The researchers now argue that it mainly involves rain, while scientists always presuppose the precipitation would be snow.

Effects for the Arctic

KNMI researcher Richard Bintanja: The rain will have much impact on the ecology of the Arctic. For example there are indications that reindeer populations will decline as the rain freezes on land and food for the animals is unattainable. The rainfall may also contribute to global warming. Rain brings more heat than snow. Because of that, the permafrost – the permanently frozen ground – will melt faster.

Bintanja: “Moreover, methane which is stored in the ground, will release and methane is a very strong greenhouse gas.”

Attention

So far, researchers have paid a little attention to the rainfall. This issue has been overlooked in climate modeling according Bintanja. Partly because it is difficult to measure in the Arctic. Until now, we have paid a lot of attention to the melting of sea ice, but rainfall is just as important, if not more important for climate models.

Oceans warming

A few weeks ago, oceanographer Sunke Schmidtko and two colleagues from the GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research in Kiel, Germany, found a decline of more than 2 percent in ocean oxygen content worldwide between 1960 and 2010. This is a major change to the Earth’s oceans linked to a warming climate: a long-predicted result of climate change that could have severe consequences for marine organisms if it continues.

Ocean oxygen is vital to marine organisms, but also very delicate — unlike in the atmosphere, where gases mix together thoroughly, in the ocean that is far harder to accomplish, Schmidtko explained.

Moreover, he added, just 1 percent of all the Earth’s available oxygen mixes into the ocean; the vast majority remains in the air.

  • Climate change models predict the oceans will lose oxygen because of several factors. Most obvious is simply that warmer water holds less dissolved gases, including oxygen.
  • Another factor is the growing stratification of ocean waters. Oxygen enters the ocean at its surface, from the atmosphere and from the photosynthetic activity of marine microorganisms. But as that upper layer warms up, the oxygen-rich waters are less likely to mix down into cooler layers of the ocean because the warm waters are less dense and do not sink as readily.

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Alarming

Natural variations have obscured our ability to definitively detect this signal in observations,” Long said in an email. “This study synthesizes all available observations to show a global-scale decline in oxygen that conforms to the patterns we expect from human-driven climate warming. They do not make a definitive attribution statement, but the data are consistent with and strongly suggestive of human-driven warming as a root cause of the oxygen decline.

“It is alarming to see this signal begin to emerge clearly in the observational data,” Schmidtko added.

Because oxygen in the global ocean is not evenly distributed, the 2 percent overall decline means there is a much larger decline in some areas of the ocean than others.

Moreover, the ocean already contains so-called oxygen minimum zones, generally found in the middle depths. The great fear is that their expansion upward, into habitats where fish and other organism thrive, will reduce the available habitat for marine organisms.

In shallower waters, meanwhile, the development of ocean “hypoxic” areas, or so-called “dead zones,” may also be influenced in part by declining oxygen content overall.

On top of all of that, declining ocean oxygen can also worsen global warming in a feedback loop. In or near low oxygen areas of the oceans, microorganisms tend to produce.

Link to the report in Nature

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