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Relationships between Recent Pan-Arctic Snow Cover and Hydroclimate Trends

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  • 1 Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, University of Washington, Seattle, Washington
  • | 2 Environmental Science and Engineering Program, University of Northern British Columbia, Prince George, British Columbia, Canada
  • | 3 National Climatic Data Center, Asheville, North Carolina
  • | 4 Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, University of Washington, Seattle, Washington
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Abstract

Using the Variable Infiltration Capacity (VIC) land surface model forced with gridded climatic observations, the authors reproduce spatial and temporal variations of snow cover extent (SCE) reported by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Northern Hemisphere weekly satellite SCE data. Both observed and modeled North American and Eurasian snow cover in the pan-Arctic have statistically significant negative trends from April through June over the period 1972–2006. To diagnose the causes of the pan-Arctic SCE recession, the authors identify the role of surface energy fluxes generated in VIC and assess the relationships between 15 hydroclimatic indicators and NOAA SCE observations over each snow-covered sensitivity zone (SCSZ) for both North America and Eurasia. The authors find that surface net radiation (SNR) provides the primary energy source and sensible heat (SH) plays a secondary role in observed changes of SCE. As compared with SNR and SH, latent heat has only a minor influence on snow cover changes. In addition, these changes in surface energy fluxes resulting in the pan-Arctic snow cover recession are mainly driven by statistically significant decreases in snow surface albedo and increased air temperatures (surface air temperature, daily maximum temperature, and daily minimum temperature), as well as statistically significant increased atmospheric water vapor pressure. Contributions of other hydroclimate variables that the authors analyzed (downward shortwave radiation, precipitation, diurnal temperature range, wind speed, and cloud cover) are not significant for observed SCE changes in either the North American or Eurasian SCSZs.

Corresponding author address: Dennis P. Lettenmaier, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, University of Washington, Box 352700, Seattle, WA 98195-2700. E-mail: dennisl@u.washington.edu

Abstract

Using the Variable Infiltration Capacity (VIC) land surface model forced with gridded climatic observations, the authors reproduce spatial and temporal variations of snow cover extent (SCE) reported by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Northern Hemisphere weekly satellite SCE data. Both observed and modeled North American and Eurasian snow cover in the pan-Arctic have statistically significant negative trends from April through June over the period 1972–2006. To diagnose the causes of the pan-Arctic SCE recession, the authors identify the role of surface energy fluxes generated in VIC and assess the relationships between 15 hydroclimatic indicators and NOAA SCE observations over each snow-covered sensitivity zone (SCSZ) for both North America and Eurasia. The authors find that surface net radiation (SNR) provides the primary energy source and sensible heat (SH) plays a secondary role in observed changes of SCE. As compared with SNR and SH, latent heat has only a minor influence on snow cover changes. In addition, these changes in surface energy fluxes resulting in the pan-Arctic snow cover recession are mainly driven by statistically significant decreases in snow surface albedo and increased air temperatures (surface air temperature, daily maximum temperature, and daily minimum temperature), as well as statistically significant increased atmospheric water vapor pressure. Contributions of other hydroclimate variables that the authors analyzed (downward shortwave radiation, precipitation, diurnal temperature range, wind speed, and cloud cover) are not significant for observed SCE changes in either the North American or Eurasian SCSZs.

Corresponding author address: Dennis P. Lettenmaier, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, University of Washington, Box 352700, Seattle, WA 98195-2700. E-mail: dennisl@u.washington.edu
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