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Melting Sea Ice Increases Arctic Precipitation, Major Threat To Climate Change

First Posted: Dec 28, 2015 08:24 AM EST
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Researchers found that the melting of sea ice will tremendously increase Arctic precipitation, where it will create a climate feedback comparable to doubling global carbon dioxide, according to a study led by Dartmouth College.

"The increases of precipitation and changes in the energy balance may create significant uncertainty in climate predictions," Ben Kopec, lead author of the study, said in a news release.

The Arctic water cycle plays a major role in climate change, where it is regulated by sea ice through evaporation and precipitation. Some scientists believe that a decrease in sea ice would increase Arctic precipitation because of increased evaporation.

The researchers measured the hydrogen and oxygen isotopic compositions of precipitation from 1990 to 2012 at six sites throughout the Arctic. This information was used to create precipitation isotopes, which would enable the researchers to project future precipitation changes and to determine how these changes would influence climate change.

The researchers found that a sea ice extent decrease of 100,000 km2 (38,610 square miles), which is the percentage of Arctic sourced moisture increases by 18.2 percent and 10.8 percent in Canadian Arctic and Greenland Sea regions. This is an increase of 10.9 percent and 2.7 percent per degree Celsius of Arctic warming. The researchers have not determined whether the precipitation will fall as rain or snow.  

The researchers' study revealed that the Arctic water cycle is a potentially major influence and impact of climate change.

"Sea ice is declining at an alarming rate, so it is important to understand the consequences of the climate feedbacks caused by these changes. We show that the loss of sea ice will likely increase precipitation, which will impact communities and ecosystems around the Arctic," said Kopec. "The change of precipitation, depending on the seasonal distribution, may impact the energy balance on the same order of magnitude as the feedbacks associated with doubling carbon dioxide."

The findings of this study were published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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