Global warming may increase Arctic snowfall which could slow the shrinkage of the Greenland ice sheet. A history of Arctic snowfall is hidden in ancient leaf waxes found in lake sediments on Greenland. A surprising trove of data yields indications of increased Arctic snowfall in times of warming.
The history of Greenland’s snowfall is chronicled in an unlikely place: the remains of aquatic plants that died long ago, collecting at the bottom of lakes in horizontal layers that document the passing years.
Using this ancient record, scientists are attempting to reconstruct how Arctic precipitation fluctuated over the past several millennia, potentially influencing the size of the Greenland Ice Sheet as the Earth warmed and cooled.
An early study in this field finds that snowfall at one key location in western Greenland may have intensified from 6,000 to 4,000 years ago, a period when the planet’s Northern Hemisphere was warmer than it is today.
Global Warming Could Arctic Snowfall
While more research needs to be done to draw conclusions about ancient precipitation patterns across Greenland, the new results are consistent with the hypothesis that global warming could drive increasing Arctic snowfall — a trend that would slow the shrinkage of the Greenland Ice Sheet and, ultimately, affect the pace at which sea levels rise.
“As the Arctic gets warmer, there is a vigorous scientific debate about how stable the Greenland Ice Sheet will be. How quickly will it lose mass?” says lead researcher Elizabeth Thomas, PhD, an assistant professor of geology in the University at Buffalo College of Arts and Sciences who completed much of the study as a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.
“Climate models and observations suggest that as temperatures rise, snowfall over Greenland could increase as sea ice melts and larger areas of the ocean are exposed for evaporation. This would slow the decline of the ice sheet, because snow would add to its mass,” Thomas says. “Our findings are consistent with this hypothesis. We see evidence that the ratio of snow to rain was unusually high from 6,000 to 4,000 years ago, which is what you would expect to see if sea ice loss causes snowfall to increase in the region.”