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Climate study delivers dire warning on Alpine snow
by Staff Writers
Paris (AFP) Feb 16, 2017

Sea ice at poles hit record low for January
Miami (AFP) Feb 16, 2017 - The amount of sea ice at the Earth's poles fell to a record low for January, while the planet's temperatures last month were the third highest in modern times, US government scientists said Thursday.

The monthly report by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is the first of its kind released in 2017, and comes on the heels of the third year in a row for record-setting heat established in 2016.

The US federal agency's analysis of global sea surface and land temperatures found that January's temperature was 1.58 Fahrenheit (0.88 Celsius) above the 20th century average of 53.6 F (12 C).

"This was the third highest for January in the 1880-2017 record, behind 2016 (highest) and 2007 (second highest)," said the report.

Those unusually warm temperatures contributed to the melting of sea ice in the Arctic, where the average ice cover for January was 487,000 square miles (1.26 million square kilometers) -- or 8.6 percent below the 1981-2010 average.

"This was the smallest January extent since records began in 1979 and 100,000 square miles smaller than the previous record set in 2016," said the report.

In the Antarctic, sea ice extent for January was 432,000 square miles (22.8 percent) below the 1981-2010 average.

"This was the smallest January Antarctic sea ice extent since records began in 1979 and 110,000 square miles smaller than the previous record set in 2006," it added.

Despite the loss of sea ice, precipitation varied widely across the globe last month.

Snow has been falling more heavily than usual in the Northern Hemisphere, where snow cover extent during January reached 890,000 square miles above the 1981-2010 average.

"This was the sixth largest January Northern Hemisphere snow cover extent in the 51-year period of record," said the study.

"The North American snow cover extent was the 13th largest on record, while the Eurasian snow cover extent was the seventh largest."

The Alpine skiing season may be much shorter by century's end, and limited to a smaller area, said a climate study Thursday warning of snow cover loss as high as 70 percent.

Most climate models predict increased winter precipitation due to global warming, scientists wrote in the European Geosciences Union (EGU) journal The Cryosphere.

But with temperatures rising too, the is likely to be in the form of rain rather than snow.

Based on mathematical climate modelling, they predicted that "the duration and mass of the snow cover in typical Alpine catchments... will shrink until the end of the century", even in best-case climate scenarios.

"Bare Alpine slopes could be a much more common sight in the future," the EGU said in a statement.

Boosted by long-awaited snowfall in January, parts of the Alps, currently hosting the World Ski Championships, are finally covered in snow.

But the Swiss side of the mountain range had its driest December since record-keeping began over 150 years ago, said the EGU. 2016 was the third year in a row with scarce Christmas snow.

And things are set to get much worse, said researchers at the Institute for Snow and Avalanche Research (SLF) and the Laboratory of Cryospheric Sciences, both in Switzerland.

If humankind succeeds in limiting average global warming to two degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) over pre-industrial levels, the loss of snow cover would be 30 percent by 2100, the study found.

But if nothing is done, the figure grows to 70 percent.

- We determine how much -

"The fact that we lose 30 percent of Alpine snow cover with the 2 C global warming scenario is sad, but at the same time encouraging compared to the 70 percent," said study co-author Christoph Marty of the SLF.

The 2 C goal is the mainstay of the Paris Agreement to curb warming by limiting emissions of planet-warming greenhouse gases from burning coal, oil and gas.

The duration of the ski season will shorten too, the study found. As temperatures rise, the period when natural snow is deep enough for winter sport could start up to a month later than it does today.

And the ski area will shift.

"If we don't cut emissions, enough snow for winter sports can only be guaranteed above 2,500 metres (8,200 feet)," said the statement.

The team used weather data and different warming scenarios to simulate snow cover projections.

They found that snow will decline in all scenarios.

"The Alpine snow cover will recede anyway, but our future emissions control by how much," warned Marty.

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