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The Alaska Range. Andrei Taranchenko / Flickr

Climate Change Has Doubled Snowfall in Alaskan Mountains

New research shows that the Alaska Range receives an average of 18 feet of snow per year—that's more than double the average of eight feet per year from 1600-1840.

The likely culprit, according to researchers from Dartmouth College, the University of Maine and the University of New Hampshire, is none other than climate change.


"We were shocked when we first saw how much snowfall has increased," said Erich Osterberg, an assistant professor of earth sciences at Dartmouth College and principal investigator for the research. "We had to check and double-check our results to make sure of the findings. Dramatic increases in temperature and air pollution in modern times have been well established in science, but now we're also seeing dramatic increases in regional precipitation with climate change."

The Alaska Range, North America's highest mountain range, is a 600-mile long chain of mountains that stretches from the Alaska-Canada border to the Alaska Peninsula. The range is best known for its largest mountain, Denali, and its namesake park, Denali National Park and Preserve.

According to the research, snowfall during the winter has jumped 117 percent since the mid-19th century in Southcentral Alaska. Summer snows increased 49 percent in the same period.

The study, published in the journal Scientific Reports on Tuesday, adds more evidence on the effect of climate change on regional precipitation. Earlier this month, an analysis published in the journal Environmental Research Letters found that human-caused warming likely intensified Hurricane Harvey's record rains over Houston.

For the current study, the researchers analyzed two ice core samples collected at 13,000 feet from Mount Hunter in Denali National Park.

The authors suggest that warmer waters from the tropical Pacific and Indian Oceans caused a strengthening of the "Aleutian Low" pressure system with its northward flow of warm, moist air, driving most of the snowfall increases.

"It is now glaringly clear from our ice core record that modern snowfall rates in Alaska are much higher than natural rates before the Industrial Revolution," said Dominic Winski, a research assistant at Dartmouth and the lead author of the report. "This increase in precipitation is also apparent in weather station data from the past 50 years, but ice cores show the scale of the change well above natural conditions."

Time series shows the dramatic doubling of snowfall around North America's highest peaks since the beginning of the Industrial Age. Inset shows summer (red) and winter (blue) snowfall since 1870.Dominic Winski

Climate change refers to more than just changes in the average surface temperature. The term also describes variations in sea levels, sea ice and, yes, snow.

Here's a simple explainer on how warmer temperatures can lead to more snowfall, straight from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency:

Warmer temperatures cause more water to evaporate from the land and oceans, which leads to more precipitation, larger storms, and more variation in precipitation in some areas. In general, a warmer climate causes more of this precipitation to fall in the form of rain instead of snow. Some places, however, could see more snowfall if temperatures rise but still remain below the freezing point, or if storm tracks change.

Climate deniers have used the presence of snow to cast doubt on climate science. Remember Sen. James Inhofe of Oklahoma's infamous snowball-throwing stunt on the Senate floor?

Also, check out this 2013 tweet from then-reality show host, now- President Donald Trump, who thinks global warming is a “hoax":

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Earth Day Tips From the EcoWatch Team

At EcoWatch, every day is Earth Day. We don't just report news about the environment—we aim to make the world a better place through our own actions. From conserving water to cutting waste, here are some tips and tricks from our team on living mindfully and sustainably.

Lorraine Chow, reporter

Favorite Product: Dr. Bronner's Castile soap

It's Earth-friendly, lasts for months and can be used as soap, shampoo, all-purpose cleaner and even mouthwash (but I wouldn't recommend that).

Essential Tool: Blender

It has paid for itself in homemade smoothies, soups, sauces and dips. It also means I don't have to buy those individual foods in unnecessary plastic containers. Blending scraps helps your compost, too!

Earth Day Tip: Skip the straw

If you feel weird about saying "no straw" at restaurants, just tell the waiter that you're allergic to plastic.

Olivia Rosane, reporter

Favorite Product: Seventh Generation products

Their household cleaning and personal care products are a great way to take care of yourself and your home in a way that is safe both for your health and the planet. Plus, their packaging is made from recycled materials and is designed to be recycled again.

Essential Tool: My portable thermos

I bring it with me when I order coffee or tea to go. That way I don't have to use paper cups, which are not actually recyclable, and some coffee shops even offer me a discount for bringing my own container!

Earth Day Tip: Get involved

In 2012, researcher Brad Werner ran a computer model and found our best shot at combating climate change was for people to form a mass social movement to demand it. So if you're worried about the environment, reach out to other people in your community and talk about what you can do together to make a difference!

Tara Bracco, managing editor

Favorite Product: Collapsible water bottle

Whether you're traveling or running errands, a reusable water bottle that's light and compact will help keep you hydrated and keep you from buying bottled water.

Essential Tool: Backpack

It's great for carrying your groceries home from the store, and you won't have to use plastic bags. If you have a long shopping list, try a rolling suitcase.

Earth Day Tip: Don't waste water

Turn off the water while you brush your teeth. It can save eight gallons of water a day!

Chris McDermott, news editor

Favorite Product: Clothes from Patagonia

Patagonia makes a wide range of inspired products and their environmental policies are world class. They use only organic cotton in their clothes, and they even offer trade-ins, recycling and repairs at any time.

Essential Tool: RIVER mobile power station and solar generator

This powerful piece of mind is always ready regardless of storms and travel, for as long as one can tap the sun.

Earth Day Tip: Savor something vegan

There's no nutritional substitute for fresh, unprocessed food, but food science has revolutionized the taste and texture of vegan alternatives. For the pure delight of it, celebrate with Miyoko's Kitchen vegan cheese, Tofurky Italian sausage (30 grams of protein per serving!) and SoDelicious non-dairy dark chocolate truffle frozen dessert made with cashew milk.

Irma Omerhodzic, associate editor

Favorite Product: Living Libations's Everybody Loves the Sunshine

Unlike sunscreen, this skin product works with the sun and helps absorb the nutrients from the sun's rays while giving skin protection at the same time.

"Rather than being afraid of the sun, harmonize with it," Living Libations says. Love it!

Essential Tool: My bike

Not only is this an emission-free way to get around town, but it also gives my body the activity it needs.

Earth Day Tip: Start small

Your one "small" action isn't small at all.

Jordan Simmons, social media coordinator

Favorite Product: Sustainable clothing by Amanda Sage Collection

Designer Lana Gurevich uses patterns from Amanda's transformative paintings to create an ethically and environmentally conscious clothing line. While supporting local businesses and an eco-friendly printing method, the fabrics are made from 100 percent recycled plastic bottles.

Essential Tool: My paintbrush and set of mineral paints

I found the all natural, biodegradable mineral paints at a local farmers' market in the Sacred Valley of Peru. I used to favor working with acrylic paints until I learned about their high carbon footprint and harmful substances.

Earth Day Tip: Honor Mother Earth

Gather some of Mother Nature's gifts such as stones, beautiful dried leaves and feathers. Set them in a special place in your home to create a unique "altar" to remind you to honor your Mother each and every day. Find peace and blessings in loving our home—the earth.

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