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Britain could lose its longest-lasting patch of snow this week

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Britain’s ‘most durable piece of snow’ is expected to melt for the eighth time since records began in the 18th century, and it could disappear altogether, experts predict.

Known as The Sphinx, the 13-metre swath of snow in Braeriach, in the Cairngorms, is known to have survived pretty much every summer since records began.

But it could fall victim to climate change, with warmer summers, wetter autumns and colder winters making it smaller, warns mountaineer and author Iain Cameron, who said it’s “unlikely to last this week.”

Scotland has some hardy snow patches, but they often melt. However, the Sphinx has only melted seven times in 300 years, three of them in the past five years.

There are no permanent glaciers in the country, but these patches of snow can last all summer and linger until the first gusts of winter.

The so-called Sphinx, at Braeriach, in the Cairngorms, has survived virtually every summer since the beginning of measurements in the 18th century. But it could become a victim of climate change

Known as The Sphinx, the 13-metre swath of snow in Braeriach, in the Cairngorms, is known to have survived virtually every summer since records began

Known as The Sphinx, the 13-metre swath of snow in Braeriach, in the Cairngorms, is known to have survived virtually every summer since records began

WHAT IS A LASTING SNOW PATCH?

A snow patch, like The Sphinx in the Cairngorns, is a permanent patch of snow that survives the summer.

They are often at higher elevations, with overhanging rocks to reduce sunlight.

In the case of the Sphinx, it has melted only seven times in the summer in 300 years and has frozen again the following winter.

They have been actively studied for over 100 years, but records of their size began in the 18th century.

In recent years, these spots have declined in size and seen them melt more often.

There is concern that they will disappear completely as the world warms.

Most of these are located on Ben Nevis, Scotland’s highest peak, and others in the Cairngorms, a mountain range in the eastern Highlands of the country.

Experts worry its permanent demise is imminent for all snow patches, including the iconic Sphinx.

Mr Cameron is Scotland’s greatest snow expert, having studied them for decades and written a book on their history.

He pointed out that four of his disappearances have occurred in the past 20 years.

“It was thought never to melt, or at least very rarely,” he said, “but this will be the third time in five years, which is unprecedented.”

“I’m not a climatologist, but I think it’s a safe assumption to say that rising temperatures are ultimately the cause of this,” the author added.

The Sphinx – so named for the rock climb directly above it – is the UK’s oldest patch of ‘permanent’ snow. and has melted since the 18th century in 1933, 1959, 1996, 2003, 2006, 2017 and 2018. With the risk of melting this year in 2021.

Mr Cameron explained that Scotland is the closest to a glacier and as a result is the most studied patch of snow in the British Isles.

But it could fall victim to climate change, with warmer summers, wetter autumns and colder winters making it smaller, warns mountaineer and author Iain Cameron, who said it's unlikely to last this week.

But it could fall victim to climate change, with warmer summers, wetter autumns and colder winters making it smaller, warns mountaineer and author Iain Cameron, who said it’s unlikely to last this week.

It can be found along the edge of the ridge of Braeriach, the UK’s third highest mountain, situated in a very isolated part of the Cairngorms.

It sits in a hollow below the ridge, which means it gets very little sunlight, keeping it frozen even in the heat of summer.

“There’s a lot of snow there in winter and spring, which means there’s huge amounts of snow on the hills that take a long time to melt,” said Cameron.

The Sphinx has been studied seriously and especially closely for about 100 years since about the 1980s, and now it’s in its final days, it’s a piece of its old self.

It can be found along the edge of the Braeriach ridge, the UK's third highest mountain, situated in a very isolated part of the Cairngorms

It can be found along the edge of the Braeriach ridge, the UK’s third highest mountain, situated in a very isolated part of the Cairngorms

It sits in a hollow under the ridge which means it gets very little sunlight, keeping it frozen even in the heat of summer

It sits in a hollow under the ridge which means it gets very little sunlight, keeping it frozen even in the heat of summer

The snow of recent years has melted to expose harder, older layers which are now also melting, leading Mr Cameron to say it now “looks irrelevant”.

But despite the way it looks today, what’s left “could tell us a lot more than we might initially think,” he explained.

“Snow patches like this act as a barometer for what the climate is doing in general and I think this is confirmed by the evidence we see.

‘Only the minimal amount of plasters that survive today compared to the past. The amount of snow that falls in winter seems to be decreasing, so as far as I’m concerned there is definitely a trend going on there.’

The snow of recent years has melted to expose harder, older layers which are now also melting, leading Mr Cameron to say it now 'looks irrelevant'

The snow of recent years has melted to expose harder, older layers which are now also melting, leading Mr Cameron to say it now ‘looks irrelevant’

But despite the way it looks today, what's left

But despite the way it looks today, what’s left “could tell us a lot more than we might initially think,” he explained.

Every year Mr Cameron writes a paper for the Royal Meteorological Society on the state of snow patches in Scotland.

“I’m not a climatologist or even an academic, but it’s one of those strange things that you get curiously attached to when you do the research,” he said.

‘From a pragmatic point of view it doesn’t matter at all whether they melt, but from a philosophical and scientific point of view they are important.

“These things can tell us what’s happening in the wider climate and we’d be wise to pay attention to what these snow patches are telling us.”

“They are small in size, but their size belies their importance.”

UK summers will reach 104°F within the decade as scorching weather becomes our new ‘normal’

Burning 40°C summers will become the UK’s new ‘normal’ by the end of the century, Met Office forecasters warned.

The alarming forecast comes as experts warned that temperature and rainfall records in Britain are being broken at a ‘shocking’ pace.

All of the UK’s ten hottest years since 1884 have occurred in the past two decades, with central England now warmer than it has been in the past three centuries.

In addition, the past three decades have been 1.6°F (0.9°C) warmer than the three decades preceding it. Warming trends are evident across the UK.

The researchers have expressed fears that the rate of global warming is spiraling out of control, saying that “climate change is happening and happening now.”

In addition to the trend towards rising temperatures, the UK has been on average about 6 percent wetter in the past 30 years than in the previous three decades, with six of the ten wettest years since 1998.

The UK’s wettest February on record came in 2020, when storms Ciara and Dennis hit the country in quick succession, destroying many homes and businesses in flooding.

In fact, most of the UK received more than twice the usual long-term average rainfall that month, with increases as high as 400 percent in the Pennines and 300 percent in broad parts of the north and west.

In addition to 2020 having the wettest February on record, the past 12 years have also seen the wettest April (2012), June (also 2012), November (2009) and December (2015).

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