Less Arctic sea ice could increase precipitation and will create a climate feedback that could potentially impact temperatures as much as double atmospheric carbon dioxide would.
Melting of Arctic ice sheet is a huge problem in its own right but it could lead to adverse effects on global climate.
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A latest study suggests that melting of sea ice will accelerate evaporation and will result in more Arctic precipitation, meaning more rain, snow or hail. But researchers are still unsure whether this increased precipitation will slow global warming or add to it.
“The increases of precipitation and changes in the energy balance may create significant uncertainty in climate predictions.” Lead author Ben Kopec from Dartmouth College said.
Global climate is influenced by Arctic water cycle or hydrologic cycle which is the continuous movement of water on, above and below the surface of the Arctic region. Sea ice in the Arctic regulates evaporation and precipitation.
In the latest study, researchers actually observed the precipitation around the Arctic to find out how does sea ice influence precipitation, and if we lose sea ice, how much precipitation will increase?
Researchers tracked hydrogen and oxygen isotopic compositions of precipitation from 1990 to 2012 at six sites across the Arctic including Canadian Arctic and Greenland Sea regions. Then, they used this isotopic composition of precipitation to figure out changes in sea ice, so they can project the future precipitation changes and determine the impact of these changes on the energy balance.
Researchers found when sea ice decreases by 100,000 square kilometers, or 38,610 square miles, the percentage of local-sourced moisture increased by 18.2 percent in the Canadian Arctic and 10.8 percent in the Greenland Sea.
Researchers suggest that Arctic water cycle is potentially a major component of climate change and melting of sea ice will increase Arctic precipitation, which will create a climate feedback that could potentially impact temperatures as much as double atmospheric carbon dioxide would.
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“Sea ice is declining at an alarming rate, so it is important to understand the consequences of the climate feedbacks caused by these changes,” said Kopec. “We show that the loss of sea ice will likely increase precipitation, which will impact communities and ecosystems around the Arctic. 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.”