Scientists predict heavier snow in poles, but less globally

Snow in poles

Scientists, using a new climate model, have predicted heavy snowfall over the polar regions and the highest altitudes, but an overall drop in global snowfall, as carbon dioxide levels rise over the next century.

The decline in snowfall could spell trouble for regions such as the western United States that rely on snow melt as a source of fresh water, researchers say.

The projections are the result of a new climate model developed at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory (GFDL) and analysed by scientists at GFDL and Princeton University.

The model indicates that the majority of the planet would experience less snowfall as a result of warming due to a doubling of atmospheric carbon dioxide.

Observations show that atmospheric carbon dioxide has already increased by 40 per cent from values in the mid 19th century, and, given projected trends, could exceed twice those values later this century.

In North America, the greatest reductions in snowfall will occur along the northeast coast, in the mountainous west, and in the Pacific Northwest. Coastal regions from Virginia to Maine, as well as coastal Oregon and Washington, will get less than half the amount of snow currently received .In very cold regions of the globe, however, snowfall will rise because as air warms it can hold more moisture, leading to increased precipitation in the form of snow.

The researchers found that regions in and around the Arctic and Antarctica will get more snow than they now receive, according to the study published in the Journal of Climate. The highest mountain peaks in the north­western Himalayas, the Andes and the Yukon region will also receive greater amounts of snowfall after carbon dioxide doubles.

This finding clashes with other models which predicted declines in snowfall for these high altitude regions. However, the new model's prediction is consistent with current snowfall observations in these regions. The model is an improvement over previous models in that it utilises greater detail about the world's topography – the mountains, valleys and other features.

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