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    Arctic melt may dry out west coast

    By Dr. David Whitehouse

    Cities and towns along the west coast of the US could be suffering from a serious water shortage by 2050, thanks to global warming. As Arctic sea ice melts, annual rainfall may drop by as much as 30 per cent from Seattle to Los Angeles, and inland as far as the Rocky Mountains.

    As temperatures rise over the next 50 years, the area of Arctic sea ice is predicted to shrink by as much as 50 per cent in some areas during the summer. To find out what this would mean for climate, Jacob Sewall and Lisa Cirbus Sloan from the University of California at Santa Cruz first used a climate model to work out how sea ice cover was likely to change through the rest of the year.

    Then they took these values for sea ice cover and the resulting sea surface temperatures, and plugged those into a global climate model to see which areas of the world would be most affected.

    While Europe got off quite lightly, they found that the sea ice changes are likely to mean significantly fewer storms will pass over the west coast of the US.

    "Winter sea ice acts like an insulating lid," explains Sewall. "When the lid is reduced, more heat can escape from the ocean to warm the atmosphere."