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  • Image of high altitude mountain ecosystems.

    Image of high altitude mountain ecosystems. | Photo: Twitter/ @MtnResearch

Published 13 May 2020
Opinion

Changes in snow cover and duration impact on available water resources and vegetation.

Italy’s applied research center EURAC holds that the snow surface of the world's mountain areas has decreased by 78 percent as a result of global warming.

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Using data from 2000 to 2018, this scientific institution created a map of global snow coverage using high-resolution satellite imagery, field measurements, and simulation models.

The result reveals a worrying situation because the duration of the snow season is shorter especially in mountainous areas above 4,000 meters of altitude.

"Over the years these phenomena have been adding up and are now highly visible," the EURAC researcher Claudia Notarnicola said, explaining that high mountain areas are important because they operate as "sentinels" that warn of global ecological transformations.

"Changes in snow cover and duration have consequences in several sectors... The first direct impact is on available water resources for the downstream areas... Another relevant impact is on the seasonality of vegetation and related implications from wildlife population," she added.

Between 1,500 and 2,000 meters above sea level, temperature increase has doubled regarding the general average, which decreases the amount of snow and ice on the peaks.

"Around 78 percent of observed areas are affected by snow decline. In 54 percent of the cases, snow cover duration changes are due to snowmelt variability," Nortarnicola added.

In areas above 4,000 meters, most parameters show only significant negative change because the extent of the snow cover shrinks and rainfall decreases.

The EURAC map establishes that there are zones that suffer the ravages of the climate crisis to a greater extent, one of which is South America where there is a worsening trend.

Nevertheless, snow coverage has increased in certain Russian areas. This is because air humidity favors the formation of snow despite global temperature has increased.​​​​​​​

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