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The Arctic is Definitely Losing its Snow, Say Experts

Aug 14, 2014 12:28 PM EDT

Experts from NASA and the University of Washington (UW) have recently determined with certainty that the Arctic is losing its snow depth at an alarming rate, especially on its sea ice. 

This should not be surprising for anyone who has been paying attention to the recent alarming news from the Arctic. NASA and other organizations say that the Arctic has started experiencing increased summer sea ice loss within the last few years, indicating a drastic shift in overall seasonal sea and air temperatures in the region.

Now, a new study accepted for publication in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Oceans, combines modern data with observations collected by scientists in the late 1950s to track the Arctic's changes as well as the rate of change over the last several decades.

According to the study, a comparison between data from a UW survey team, verification from NASA airborne surveys collected from 2009-2013, buoy data from the US Army Corps of Engineers and observations from Soviet survey stations all showed the same thing: snowcover in the Arctic, particularly around the region's sea ice, has been drastically thinning.

"Knowing exactly the error between the airborne and the ground measurements, we're able to say with confidence, 'Yes, the snow is decreasing in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas,'" co-author Ignatius Rigor, an oceanographer at the UW's Applied Physics Laboratory, said in a recent statement.

Specifically, snowpack has thinned by about five inches in the western Arctic and seven inches on the ice seas west and north of Alaska.

The experts speculate that a this is occurring because the chills that cause "freeze-up" of sea ice in the Arctic are occurring later in the fall than they once did. It is because of this that September and October's heavy snowfall mostly finds itself sinking straight to the bottom of the ocean.

Researchers are also quick to point out that they are unsure what kind of consequences a thinner snow-pack could mean for Arctic sea ice, but it may very well have something to do with the ice's increased summer retreat in recent years.

NASA recently announced that it will be launching an airborne campaign to measure ice, clouds and radiation levels around the Arctic to better understand the effects of climate change.

"It's a complex business, but it depends on a lot of things we can, in fact, measure," said Hal Maring, program manager for radiation sciences at NASA's Earth Science Division.

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