The effects of rapidly melting Arctic sea ice may have global reach far beyond the Arctic itself. According to a new study released Tuesday, melting ice could lead to reoccurring droughts in California, similar to, or more severe than, the 2012-2016 drought. The melting ice may lead to high-pressure systems that block rain and storms from reaching California, according to the research from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. The research was detailed by Reuters on Tuesday.
“Changes in the Arctic don’t stay in the Arctic,” according to the lead author of the study, atmospheric modeler Ivana Cvijanovic.
“This has the potential to make a drought very similar to the one we had in 2012 to 2016,” she said.
That drought caused billions of dollars in lost production for California farmers, destroyed thousands of agricultural jobs, and raised energy bills due to failing hydroelectric systems.
“Studies like this one imply that it’s not only a problem (for communities in Alaska) and that Arctic Sea ice loss that we expect in the next couple of decades could have massive effects,” beyond the Arctic, says Cvijanovic.
The climate modeling used in the study suggested a possible 10 to 15 percent loss of rainfall on a 20-year average. Some individual years could become drier, while others become wetter.
Other research has predicted other ways that the state may become drier in the future. A study, published in the journal Nature Communications and funded by Energy Department’s science office, showed that temperatures in the state have increased by 2 degrees Fahrenheit over the last century. Warmer air can hold more moisture, reducing precipitation and dying up soil, rivers, and streams.
In the new study, scientists developed a set of global climate models, looking at the ocean and atmosphere over a 40-year period. In the models with a reduction in sea ice, the Arctic reflected less of the sun’s energy into space. Within 20 years, the warming from this effect had interfered with the flow of energy between the Arctic and the tropics, creating warmer waters north of the equator. In turn, this leads to the formation of “ridges,” or high pressure systems, which diverted rain north to the already-saturated Pacific Northwest in the simulations.
Cvijanovic said the recent, 5-year drought was “consistent” with the scenario described in the study.