A Moment of Science

A World without Snow

According to a climate simulation by researchers at the University of Wisconsin, a snowless world would be both warmer and colder. Here's why.

snowy_forest

Photo: Dustlake (flickr)

It also acts like an insulator by trapping heat and keeping the ground it covers relatively warm.

Would a world without any snow would be:

A) warmer
B) colder
C) both warmer and colder
D) the same

The correct answer is C. According to a climate simulation by researchers at the University of Wisconsin, a snowless world would be both warmer and colder. Here’s why.

Snow reflects sunlight back into the atmosphere and cools the air just above the ground. Without any snow at all, even in the polar regions, the simulation predicted that in the northern hemisphere temperatures would rise by an average of 41 degrees Fahrenheit. During winter the temperature increase would be even greater. Since without snow the air in the affected regions would be warmer, those chilling northern winds would lose their bite.

Snow doesn’t just make our planet colder, though. It also acts like an insulator by trapping heat and keeping the ground it covers relatively warm. During a snowless winter, even with warmer air temperatures, the ground in northern areas like Siberia would cool by over sixty degrees Fahrenheit. Permafrost, or permanently frozen earth, would extend southward up to six hundred miles from the arctic circle.

So, even though snow is wet, cold, and a pain to shovel, we’re much better off with it than without it.

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