Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Declining Levels of Snow and the End of Winter

Now that the Sochi Olympics have come to a close, we are being forced to reevaluate the future of the Winter Games. It is not just the Olympics that are being threatened by global warming, winter sports are under siege. Even more than this we are being forced to reckon with the global decline of snow and the demise of winter itself.

As reviewed in a New York Times op-ed, in the last 47 years, a million square miles of spring snow cover has disappeared from the Northern Hemisphere.

Since 1970, the rate of winter warming per decade in the United States has been triple the rate of the previous 75 years. Nine of the 10 hottest years on record have occurred since 2000. Europe has lost half of its Alpine glacial ice since the 1850s and the Alps are warming two to three times faster than the worldwide average.

If we continue with business as usual it is likely that two-thirds of European ski resorts will be forced to close by 2100.  In the US Northeast more than half of the 103 ski resorts may no longer be viable in 30 years because of warmer winters. In the Western part of the country between 25 and 100 percent of its snowpack will be lost by 2100. As of January, California had just 12 percent of its average snowpack, and the Pacific Northwest had around 50 percent. Some computer models predict that the Pacific Northwest will receive 40 to 70 percent less snow by 2050. 

Even the great white north is not immune. The ski season in parts of British Columbia is four to five weeks shorter than it was 50 years ago, and in eastern Canada, the season is predicted to drop to less than two months by midcentury.

The loss of snow is a tragedy in and of itself, but it also represents a tremendous economic blow. In the US alone global warming will impact a $66 billion industry that provides 960,000 jobs. This is not just a distant reality it is already occurring.  Between 1999 and 2010, low snowfall has cost the industry $1 billion and up to 27,000 jobs.  Water intensive artificial snow is already essential in 88 percent of American ski resorts.

The war against climate change is a fight to save more than winter recreation and more than jobs, it a fight to save winter. We need national and international policies designed to curb emissions.  With this in mind 108 ski resorts, along with 40 major companies, signed the Climate Declaration, urging federal policy makers to take action on climate change.

As explained in the article, "this is not about skiing. It is about snow, a vital component of earth’s climate system and water cycle. When it disappears, what follows is a dangerous chain reaction of catastrophes like forest fires, drought, mountain pine beetle infestation, degraded river habitat, loss of hydroelectric power, dried-up aquifers and shifting weather patterns. Not to mention that more than a billion people around the world — including about 70 million in the western United States — rely on snowmelt for their fresh water supply."

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