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Scientists issue warning about a 'tipping point' that could change our winters: 'We kind of see everybody go off a cliff'

The Southwest and Northeast were the areas most significantly impacted in the United States.

The Southwest and Northeast were the areas most significantly impacted in the United States.

Photo Credit: iStock

A recent study is warning that winter is not what it used to be, and the growing changes may create a domino effect that carries into other seasons. 

What's happening?

As detailed by The New York Times, scientists discovered that the cold season seems to have a "tipping point" that affects the levels of snowpacks. 

The findings, published in the peer-reviewed journal Nature, revealed that snow begins to melt more quickly when the average temperature in a region is at least 17 degrees Fahrenheit over the winter. 

"Beyond that threshold, we kind of see everybody go off a cliff," Justin Mankin, a Dartmouth College professor and co-author of the study, told the Times.    

The Southwest and Northeast were the areas most significantly impacted in the United States, while many parts of Europe also saw their snowpacks declining at an increased rate. 

Why is this concerning?

Some regions depend on snowpack as a water source, while others are economically reliant on tourism from winter sports.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, approximately 60-70% of water in the West is sourced from spring snowmelts. A decrease in that supply could have wide-ranging consequences, worsening summer droughts, limiting food supply, and making it easier for invasive species to outcompete native plants that support vital pollinators.

The snowpack also helps bounce sunlight back into the atmosphere. When it is not around to do that, the ground can soak up more radiation.

"It becomes another way that our world is heating up," Dr. Stephen Young, a geography professor at Salem State University, explained to the Times. 

What can be done about the melting snowpacks?

The 2015 Paris Agreement, a binding treaty accepted by 196 countries, aims to limit the rise of global temperatures by 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit above preindustrial levels.

To do this, transitioning away from dirty energy is essential, as the burning of oil, gas, and coal produces more than three-quarters of planet-warming pollution, according to the United Nations

Many countries have already been scaling up their clean-energy grids, but individuals can take action as well — and often save money in the process. 

Taking public transportation, unplugging energy vampires, and signing up for community solar are just some of the steps that can make a difference in the health of our planet. 

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