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Lower emissions needed to save the winter season

According to recent research led by the University of New Hampshire, winters are warming faster than summers in North America, impacting ecosystems as well as human societies and economy. While global climate models indicate that this trend will likely continue in the following decades, the study authors estimate that a significant reduction in greenhouse gas emissions could preserve almost three weeks of snow cover and below freezing temperatures.

“The local ski hills of New England raised me to love winter and snow,” said study lead author Elizabeth Burakowski, a research assistant professor of Earth Sciences at the University of New Hampshire. 

“But winters are vital to all of us and taking serious action now to limit, or slow, the warming of winter could mean preserving many core purposes of cold weather including providing more winter protection for woodland animals, preventing the spread of invasive forest pests, and increasing the ability of ski resorts to make snow – protecting the economy by maintaining the area’s multimillion-dollar recreation industry.”

In their study, Professor Burakowski and her colleagues have analyzed 29 different climate models to determine the effect of reducing greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere. At the current rate of emissions, ski areas in North America will face up to 50 percent decline in snowmaking days. 

If between 1980 and 2005, the number of snow-covered days was 95, under a low emissions scenario they would be reduced to 72, and under a high emissions model to 56. If no urgent measures to curb emissions are undertaken, states such as New Jersey, Rhode Island, or Connecticut will likely have snow-free winters by the end of the century.

“Emissions scenarios play a critical role in the loss of winter conditions, indicating a potential doubling of the loss of cold days and snow cover under higher emissions,” said study co-author Alexandra Contosta, an expert in winter ecology at the University of New Hampshire. 

“These changes could disrupt and forever change some very significant social and ecological systems that have historically relied on cold, snowy winters for habitat, water resources, forest health, local economies, cultural practices, and human wellbeing,” she concluded. 

The study is published in the journal Northeastern Naturalist.

By Andrei Ionescu, Staff Writer

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