The amount of snow falling in Alaska’s Denali National Park, home to North America’s tallest mountain, has more than doubled over the past 150 years, according to a new study.
Scientists conducting the research near 20,310-foot Denali (formerly Mt. McKinley) say that an increase in annual snowfall from roughly 8 feet before the Industrial Revolution to 18 feet today is the result of a warming climate as more precipitation falls on the high peaks of the Alaska Range.
Researchers from Dartmouth College, the University of New Hampshire, and the University of Maine at Orono set up a camp at 13,000 feet on Mt. Hunter, near Denali. They then drilled two ice cores that contained records of snowfall dating back 1,200 years. The cores revealed a 117 percent jump in wintertime snowfall on Mt. Hunter since the mid-19th century.
“We were shocked when we first saw how much snowfall has increased,” Eric Osterberg, an assistant professor of earth sciences at Dartmouth and the study’s lead investigator, said in a statement. “We had to check and double-check our results to make sure of the findings.”
The study, published this week in the journal Scientific Reports, attributed the dramatic increase in snowfall to two principal factors: An increase in precipitation as a warming atmosphere holds more moisture, and a warming-related shift in atmospheric patterns that has channeled more Pacific storms over Alaska. The researchers noted that despite an increase in snowfall at high elevations in portions of Alaska, the state’s glaciers continue to retreat at a rapid rate because temperatures at lower elevations are rising so quickly.