A Short Trip From COP26, UK's Longest-Lasting Snow Patch Melts Away

The Braeriach Summit and plateau in Cairngorms mountain range of Scotland. Aviemore. Image credit: luk36mie/Shutterstock.com

Just a short private jet flight away from COP26 climate talks, the UK’s most durable snow patch has melted away.  

Known as the Sphinx, the snow patch can typically be found 1,296 meters (4,252 feet) up Braeriach, the third highest mountain in Britain located among the Cairngorms, a mountain range in the eastern Highlands of Scotland. 

Faced with warming temperatures, the notoriously hardy snow patch melted away for the eight-time in the past 300 years last weekend, the day before the COP26 kicked off, BBC Scotland reports. Prior to this latest meltdown, the snow patch has totally disappeared just seven other times — in 1933, 1959, 1996, 2003, 2006, 2017, and 2018. Prior to 1933, it’s thought the snow patch had remained intact since the 1700s. 

This is showing a worrying trend. Speaking to the BBC, snow patch expert Iain Cameron explains that the snow patch is melting increasingly often and it’s looking likely that climate change is a factor. 

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A report [PDF] for the Cairngorms National Park Authority published in 2020 found that snow depth in the mountain range has been declining since the early 1980s, concluding that there may be “very little or no snow by 2080.” Paired with this, the maximum and minimum temperatures in the region have been on the rise since 1960. 

The snow patch can be found around 140 kilometers (86 miles) north of Glasgow, where world leaders and delegates are currently attending the COP26 climate talks. The irony is not lost on Cameron, who’s been studying snow patches in Scotland for some 25 years.

“How ironic and prescient it is that our longest-lasting patch of snow melted for the third time in five years, right on the eve of COP26. Before 2000 it had melted only three times in the last 150 years,” he told the Guardian.

The central aim of the COP26 is to negotiate the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions needed to keep global warming to ideally below 1.5 °C  (2.7 °F) above pre-industrial levels. If this goal is not achieved — there’s certainly no guarantee it will — then the planet will undergo dramatic changes much more severe than a melting snow patch, from further increases of deadly extreme weather events to the widespread loss of biodiversity.

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